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Towson, Salisbury, Minnesota-Duluth and Indiana U.-Pennsylvania (IUP) all went 2-0 on the weekend to win their respective regions and reach the DII National Semifinals.
Two regions were played in Pittsburgh. In one, Salisbury sailed past Marist 95-0 and Rowan beat Norwich 37-20 on Saturday. The Sharks then beat Rowan 38-28 to reach their third-straight DII Final Four.
In the other Pittsburgh region, IUP beat Providence 33-12 and Colgate beat Coast Guard 22-10 Saturday. The Tooters, playing in front of a large home crowd, then staved off a Colgate comeback bid to win 29-22 Sunday.
Weather was a factor in playoff rugby across the country, and Pittsburgh was no different. IUP utilized some good work from its forwards to beat Colgate in the mud.
“It was a lot of pack play. Our pack ran really well, especially when we got inside the 22 – it was a lot of crashes and a lot of hit ups,” said IUP scrumhalf Jason Ewing. “For most of the first half we were inside their 30, but unfortunately we had a lot of knock-ons that kept us out of the try zone.”
Colgate tried to go wide more often in the second half and saw some limited success, but not enough to reverse the result.
IUP was a .500 team last season, but they haven’t lost a meaningful game since the beginning of the school year.
“This was just us coming together as a good team. We’re a really close group. We’re just like a family, the 15 of us that are out there at any time,” IUP president Bryan Castrogiovanni said.
“It’s been the same 15 guys working hard,” added Ewing. “We came in in August and just decided this was going to be our year.”
In Knoxville, Towson won its two games relatively comfortably, beating Illinois State 34-19 Saturday and UNC-Wilmington 30-5 Sunday.
The first half of the quarterfinal was extremely close, and Towson trailed 5-3 before scoring an unconverted try to take an 8-5 lead right on halftime. The Baltimore school then poured on 22 unanswered points in the second stanza.
“I think that played into the second half,” said Towson coach Don Stone of the late first-half try. “If you’re the team on defense, you hate giving up a try on the last play, so we used that momentum to basically roll in the second half.”
As South Region Champs, Towson returns to the Final Four for the second-straight year. And for the second-straight time, they’ll meet conference foe and intra-Maryland rival Salisbury in the semifinals. In their last four match-ups, Salisbury has eked by twice and blown Towson out twice. The 2012 National semifinal was one of the blowouts.
The biggest surprise result of the weekend came from Madison, Wisc., where Minnesota-Duluth pummeled UW-Milwaukee 49-5 and 2011 National Champs UW-Whitewater 43-17 en route to the Final Four.
“We watched them play a little bit [Saturday] and knew about their history, but our boys have been working hard and we knew that we had a shot,” said Duluth coach Jeramy Katchuba. “We probably played the best game that we could today. Our forwards really dominated the game and that was what really sealed it for us.”
Whitewater has a big pack, bigger than that of Duluth, but size wasn’t everything in the scrums.
“We just dominated them in the scrum. The first half was fairly tight, but we were controlling them in the scrum and driving them around, probably taking 50-percent of their ball,” said Katchuba.
“We beat them down after a while. They were a lot bigger than us, but I would have to say fitness was on our side.”
Duluth will now match up with IUP in the semis. After some impressive wins over both Milwaukee and Whitewater, it’s clear the Northern Lights Champs have what it takes to compete for a National Title. But does IUP, who got to watch Salisbury up close this weekend?
“I would love to have them in the final if we can,” said Ewing. “I think it would be an awesome match, and I absolutely feel like we could compete.”