MATTHEWS, N.C- Teams entered Sunday with dreams of grandeur. Some were looking to repeat as champions some were looking for a shot at redemption others were looking to create program history. Whatever they were looking for, they all found challenges.
Men’s D1AA Fall Championship: Saint Joseph’s vs. Bowling Green State:
Saint Joseph’s returned to the Fall D1AA Championship game hoping to go one better than they did last year and win it all. Bowling Green State, their opponent, returned to the championship game for the first time since 2016. In wet and slippery conditions, Saint Joseph’s dominated the early passages of the game. However, the wet conditions were not conducive to the slick skills the Hawks were attempting to display and chances went begging. The Falcons on the other hand controlled the elements with greater effect, by keeping the ball in the forwards and got on the board first. Unperturbed, the Hawks continued to play inventive rugby and looked to spark opportunities from anywhere on the field. Unfortunately, an untimed pass from Saint Joseph’s sailed into the hands of Bowling Green’s Ryan Steinmetz and he returned it for a try; giving the Falcons a 14-0 lead as they went into the half.
The opening 10 minutes of the second half saw the hawks camped down in the Falcons 22, but stout defense held up and the Hawks were unable to get any return for their enterprising play. It wasn’t until Noah Niumataiwalu intercepted a pass for a try, that the Hawks got on the board and with just over 20 to play it was a seven point game. However, the Falcons scored almost immediately after the Hawks got on the board and the game sat at a 19-7 scoreline. Ill-discipline from the Hawks saw them play the majority of the second half with only fourteen men. With a man down, the Hawks were unable to create any opportunities and the Falcons rode out the lead to the final whistle. Bowling Green winning the Fall D1AA Championship, 19-7.
Women’s Division I Championship: Air Force vs. Davenport:
In a match that saw the last two champions from the women’s D1 Fall competition (Davenport 2017, Air Force 2016) go toe to toe, it was set to be one of the most evenly matched games of the day. However, in the first twenty minutes it was all one-way traffic, with Air Force opening a 16-0 lead over the defending champions. Their lead was built off dominating possession and stretching the Davenport defense wide. They were assisted in their attack by some loose tackling from the Panthers.
With ten minutes left in the first, Air Force was up 23-0. However, in the final moments of the opening stanza the Panthers came storming back. Led by a renewed sense of physicality in defense Davenport crossed for two unconverted tries, to bring their deficit to within two scores. The catalyst on the attacking side of the ball came from scrumhalf Olivia Ortiz.
In the second half, whoever scored first was looking like the favorite to come away with the spoils. Air Force struck twice within five minutes and just as Davenport looked to have found their way back into the contest, Air Force was quick to kick them back out. Heading into the final half an hour, the defending champions had to dig themselves out of a 25-point hole.
Led again by their dynamic scrum half Olivia Ortiz, Davenport pushed back and fought with tenacity to bring it back down to a 13-point deficit, with 15 minutes to play. In the final five minutes the two sides traded scores but Air Force held strong and bagged their second title in three years, thanks to a 40-27 win.
Men’s Division II National Championship: UW Whitewater vs. North Carolina State:
After qualifying through yesterday’s semifinals, it was up to UW Whitewater and North Carolina State to see who would take home the only national championship on offer. Whitewater was looking for their third consecutive title; while North Carolina State was looking for their first in program history. It was slow start to the match and with a quarter of the game gone, it was firmly up in the air, as NC State owned a 7-0.
Against the flow of play Whitewater struck back, after a sublime run from Alec Treuthardt the lead was cut to two. Almost immediately afterwards NC State came back extending their lead back out to 7. UW Whitewater answered right back and drew the game level. As the teams prepared for the half it looked to be squared away. However, a late try to NC State gave them the lead and momentum headlining into the break.
UW Whitewater made some questionable decisions in their 22 during the first half and it cost them, things didn’t change in the second. Within the first five minutes of the second half, Jack Kiernan who along with his brother Tom had lead the team all weekend, turned the ball over and got the Wolfpack back on the board. With 35 minutes remaining NC State was up 14.
Feeling the pressure and with time expiring, UWW created some enterprising attack; but errors and forced passes plagued them and a quick turnover, as was becoming the trend, tuned into points for NC State. From there the flood gates opened and NC State in the final 25 minutes scored 26 unanswered points. Securing their first title, via a 57-12 scoreline.
Women’s D2 Fall Championship Game:
In a rematch of last year’s championship game Vassar College was looking to make amends for letting a large lead slip from their hands against Winona State. Early on it looked as if these two were going to be headed for another instant classic. Both teams thrived off playing a physical game and each team was going to earn every inch. In the first half, there were five lead changes. Winona got on the board first through the boot of captain Emily Becker. Vassar answered shortly after, through establishing their pick and drive style of play. Winona countered Vassar’s forward play with dazzling backline efforts, helping them get down the field. As the teams headed to the half it was 13-10 in favor of Winona State.
One of the key factors to Vassar’s game plan is to wear their opponents down by keeping the ball in hand and beating them physically and mentally. While Winona was able to keep pace in the first, it became evident early on in the second that they were running out of steam. It only took one minute for Vassar to retake the lead from Winona State. Conceding a try so early on in the second half seemingly took the wind out of Winona’s sails and they conceded four tries in ten minutes. Winona to their credit never quit and continued to push Vassar throughout, but Vassar’s physicality on both sides was simply too much for Winona to match. Two tries in the final ten minutes blew Vassar’s lead out to 50-13.