Notre Dame College stands between UC Davis, second D1AA title

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - Winning a National Championship is no small feet, which makes UC Davis' 2016 run at a second consecutive Division 1AA title so incredibly impressive. The Aggies have looked the part of reining champions all season, but are now forced to contend with its stiffest test of the season - a Championship Final versus Notre Dame College.

After a postseason victory against league rival Sacramento State and a 2015 Semifinal rematch versus Arkansas, UC Davis is where it expected to be - preparing for a D1AA National Championship game.

"The team has been working on a goal that exceeded last year's," explained head coach Kal Incendy. "How do you do better than last year's undefeated National Championship? An undefeated season with an opportunity to repeat as National Champions with less total points scored against us during the season when compared to last year - which they have done."

Unlike the D1AA National Champions from 2013 and 2014, Central Florida, who's unmatched sized allowed the Knights to bully their was through many teams, the Aggies rely on several assets to produce winning results, including conditioning and encouragement.

"We are physically smaller team compared to other teams, so we rely on fitness, diversity and creating space while maintaining a strong defense," Incendy said. "When things are going right on the field, a lot of positive reinforcement is used to increase players' efficacy."

UC Davis has no doubt been one of the better teams in college rugby over the past two seasons regardless of what division it plays in. Good thing for its May 7 College 15s National Championships opponent that it has scheduled such a tough slate of games this year. Notre Dame College beat D1A Rugby sides Buffalo and West Virginia in the fall, and challenged itself in a losing effort against the likes of Davenport and Navy.

"The victories over D1 opponents gave us confidence and belief in ourselves and our systems," Notre Dame College Head Coach Jason Fox said. "The losses exposed our weaknesses which were quickly addressed, and subsequently gave us the insight to continue refining our skills and structure throughout the season."

The Falcons have hung their hats on the team's defense all season long, and it showed in the East Regional Playoffs when they held Middle Tennessee and American International College to a combined 21 points. The feat was especially impressive given the explosiveness of AIC's attack.

Notre Dame College is content to focus on its own structures and maintaining its suffocating defensive pressure leading into Saturday's Final, but it would be wise for the Falcons to hone in on a few capable Aggies.

Lock Ian McCaffrey has been good all season for UC Davis. His combination of size and athleticism are evident, but the secondrower has been just as valuable as a leader amongst the forwards. At the back of the scrum, eight man Harrison Morrow is fit, smart and tenacious on defense.

In the backs, last year's fly half Josh Farnsworth is captaining the team from inside center, pairing with Yutaro Kobayashi to make a formidable center combination. Outside of them is lightning quick winger Bryce Ackerman.

Notre Dame College has relied on a team game, utilizing all 15 players on pitch, but its front row can't be denied as a strong point. Aiden Carr, Alec Janotka and John Santiago were excellent in the trenches during last month's playoffs, and will need another quality performance Saturday. In the centers, Zack Forro and Rodney Thomas are a lot of for opposing midfields to handle, and enjoy being involved in the point of contact on defense, as well.

"We know they have some all-star players on their team, and that they are strong defensively," noted Incendy of his Finals opponent. "We also know that their forwards find space amongst their opponents. Their forwards and backs work collectively well together. They will be the toughest team we played all year."

The D1AA Final will be the second of five matches at May 7's 2016 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. UC Davis' quest for a second consecutive D1AA title will kickoff 11a.m. PT and air live on The Rugby Channel.