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The DII playoffs got under way over the weekend with a handful of play in games. The bracket is now down to 16 teams, with four regional’s taking place this weekend.
After some confusion in Rugby Northeast and NECRC, things are finally cleared up. In the NECRC, it was decided that the winner of the Rhode Island, Middlebury matchup midweek would determine the 2nd spot out of the conference. Middlebury continued its hot streak after beating Vermont, knocking off URI 42-13 to play a weekend game against Plymouth State. Despite a short turnaround, the Vermont school won a tough 26-19 game against Plymouth State to advance to the round of 16.
After a lot of confusion, it turned out that Southern Connecticut won Rugby Northeast and Bentley finished second. Both teams won this weekend with Bentley topping Cortland 31-19 on Sunday and Southern Connecticut winning 31-29 over York.
It was not easy for SoCon, however, as it fell behind 17-0 at half and could hardly get anything going.
“I think our guys just really dug deep and they really knew that this met a lot to our organization and to all the work they put in this season and they just really were not ready to go home,” said Southern Connecticut coach John Marullo.
SoCon got on the board immediately in the second half but conceded a try right back to York and it looked to be an uphill climb. However, Seimou Smith scored three tries and Sean Grenier added two to earn the win. Marullo indicated that Smith, who is a football convert that considered transferring out of the school last year, took over the game and is really coming into his own.
“He is really starting to come into is own stride and has played a phenomenal string of games in the past few games. It really came together in this game and he basically took over.”
Out West the Colorado School of the Mines beat Principia 34-12 and North Dakota State outlasted UW-Milwaukee with a strong second half.
Illinois State battled Grand Valley State in a match that was close until the second half. ISU led 15-12 at the break but scored four second half tries to take home the 41-17 victory.
“I think the difference was conditioning. We kind of outlasted them. A couple of big breaks happened for us and we were able to capitalized on a lot of different things at the end because we were not tiring out,” said ISU Club President Will Blair.
After a tough season in the WIIL Conference this ISU team is prepared to play anybody.
“We have had a lot of tough games recently. The back half of our schedule really prepared us for what we are going to see going forward,” Blair added.
The final game of the weekend was a shootout between VMI and UNC-Charlotte. The 49ers went up 14-0 fairly quickly but VMI punched back to take a 31-21 lead right before halftime. However, Michael Basnett found a gap in front of his goal line, and rather than kick it out of danger, the speedster ran through. With 10 meters to go from the goal line, he grubbed a kick into the corner and ran onto to score a try right at halftime. The score changed the momentum of the game going into the second half.
“Ball retention started to become an issue and that is normally not a problem of ours,” said 49ers coach Bo Pasko, “Ordinarily we have a exit strategy for down by our try line but he saw a gap and he lightning quick. Before we knew it he was halfway down the field.”
Pasko who knows the VMI program all too well as a graduate of the Military school’s rugby program, had his team make some adjustments to better control the ball. UNCC held VMI to just three second half points and earned its first ever national playoff berth.
“We talked about respecting the ball and we made some adjustments to our counter attack and that and retaining the ball made us able to weather the storm a little bit and punch a couple in,” added Pasko