MATTHEWS, NC.- The Championship matchups for Men’s and Women’s D2 have been set, after Saturday’s semifinals. In the Men’s D2 National Championship, last year’s champion UW Whitewater will face off against a strong North Carolina State side; and in the Women’s D2 Fall Championship it will be a rematch of last year’s championship match, as Winona State will take on Vassar College.
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UW Whitewater vs. Queens University:
UW Whitewater, the two time defending champions, came out with a lot to prove and in the opening 10 minutes they did just that. Abusing their size advantage in the forwards, the early damage was done by hooker, Jeremy Bartels and Tight head prop Riley Peckham.
Just as it was shaping up to be a blow out, Queens came storming back into the contest. Led by impressive flyhalf Lebognag Ngwenya, Queens put themselves right back into the contest. They scored 19 unanswered to bring the game back level. However, Whitewater dashed over the line through Shay Hasse and took a five point lead into the half.
The second half started in Queen’s favor, as a penalty try in the first two minutes saw the home town team take their first lead of the game. Just as things were looking up for Queens, Whitewater’s backs began to assert their dominance. Scoring two tries in ten minutes, Whitewater establish a 12-point lead heading into the final twenty.
As they had done all game Queens came roaring back and with 15 left, the two sides were only separated by 15. Whitewater, showing the pedigree that has won them the last two championships, wasn’t having it and came back 10 minutes later blowing their lead out to 14, putting the icing on the cake. Queens scored with seconds left but it was too little too late.
“We just kept our composure,” Said Whitewater’s captain, Levi Van Landen. “The game got away from us a bit, but we just came back to doing the things we did to get us here and that brought us through in the end.”
Their opponent would be settled by the winner of North Carolina State and Iowa Central Community College.
North Carolina State vs. Iowa Central Community College:
The rain started to come down at the beginning of the game, putting a dampener on each team’s attacking plans. The wet conditions made ball handling hard, but made possession and position much more important. It was a slow first 20, with constant back and forth, but it was North Carolina State who was able to make the most of their opportunities and control the conditions in their favor opening a 12-0 lead.
Iowa Central threatened on multiple occasions, but stout defense kept them off the scoreboard. With five minutes remaining in the opening stanza NC State kicked a penalty pushing their lead out to 15. ICCC struck before the half to try and steal the momentum before the break, but Another penalty to NC State quashed any hopes of that.
Early in the second half NC State, again through the boot added to their lead; however, Iowa Central wasn’t going down without a fight and stormed back to bring NC State’s lead down from 16 to four. NC State, unfazed, had an answer for anything thrown their way. They stormed back and scored two tries of their own, reestablishing their 16-point buffer.
The final quarter of the game was played all over the pitch, with each team toiling to keep their dreams of a national championship alive. Ultimately neither team could add to their tally and North Carolina advanced, 33-17.
After the match, coach Brian Ketchem noted, “We just stuck to the game plan, we knew we were capable of winning this game. Iowa’s a good team, they pushed us right to the edge; but we just stuck to the system.”
NC State will now take on UW Whitewater for the Men’s D2 National Championship. Kickoff at 1pm EST Sunday Dec 2.
Winona State vs. Cincinnati:
Both games in the Women’s D2 Fall Championship Semifinals were rematches of the 2017 editions. The first saw, defending champions, Winona State take on Cincinnati. It was a bruising encounter from start to finish. The opening quarter of the game saw no tries scored, but plenty of collisions. Each team paid the toll for the high level of physicality, losing players through injuries. Winona, ultimately, were able to control the conditions with more prowess and established a 12-0 lead heading into the half.
The defenses of each team were having difficulty making their tackles stick, as line breaks were easy to come by; but due to the heavy rain soaked field, those breaks often fizzled out to nothing. That changed in the 43rd minute when Cincinnati scored a, desperately needed, try after slick handling sent Madeline Conklin over. For Cincinnati, that was as close as they’d get. Winona demonstrated their championship mentality and struck back almost immediately from applying pressure deep in Cincinnati’s 22; and in the space of five minutes scored two more tries.
Entering the final 20 minutes, the game was not out of reach for Cincinnati, but they’d need to score next and score quickly if they were to come back into the fray. They did not. Winona scored twice in the final ten minutes of the game including a second try on the day for loose head prop Makayla Leraas. The scoreline pushed out to 34-7, but not indicative of how close the contest was.
“They were a lot better than last year,” began Winona’s captain Gabby Calametti. “Second half we really had to dig deep and start playing with more heart.”
They would face the winner of Vassar College and Coast Guard.
Vassar College vs. Coast Guard:
In the second rematch of the day, the first half was all one-way traffic. Vassar, a team known for playing a tight forward dominated game, thrived off the wet and messy conditions. From the opening kickoff Vassar camped down in Coast Guard’s half pick and driving continuously, slowly but surely building a 24-0 lead. Those four tries shared equally between, Katharine Sworden and Oshana Reich. Just before the half a brilliant break from Coast Guard’s Mary Sims saw them get on the board and close the first half with momentum in their grasp.
The second half began the same way, as the first ended, with another break away try. This time from standout fullback Hollis Roush. However, Vassar came right back and rebuilt their lead. As was the case all game, Coast Guard’s breakaway speed kept them in the game, scoring quickly from anywhere on the field, another quick try brought the game back to ten.
The final 20 minutes of the game saw a struggle between the two teams for the upper hand. Vassar scored a well worked try at the beginning of the final quarter and another shortly after. However, Coast Guard determined to break through Vassar’s stonewalled defense kept on knocking, but no answer. Finally, the Vassar defense gave way with only a couple of minutes remaining. Vassar holding on to win and advance to their second championship game in as many years, 43-26.
“You’ve really got to credit the forwards for a good rucking display,” noted Vassar coach, Tony Brown. “Coast Guard put some big tackles in… they’re always a good opponent, Coast Guard. I think the keys to success were don’t be too loose with the ball.”
For the second year in a row it will be Winona and Vassar squaring off for the Women’s D2 Fall Championship. Kickoff at 3pm EST Sunday December 2.