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In a break-neck Big Ten Championship at Moose Rugby Grounds in Elkhart, Ind., the final between Indiana and Ohio State came down to the final minute. After exchanging blows all game, the Hoosiers survived by outscoring the Buckeyes, 38-36, to win their fifth straight conference title.
After a first half where OSU led 14-12, the second half was action packed with whoever had the ball had a good chance of scoring. In the end, each side scored four tries in the half, but Indiana connected on three of their conversions to OSU’s one.
“It was a tight game,” Indiana head coach Sopa Enari said. “Credit to Ohio State, compared to the last two years, they have come along and improved a lot. They had a chance to win yesterday. We missed a good number of opportunities to score points, they missed their opportunities, and it came down to conversions. All in all, it was a good game.”
Ohio State had the first chance at points, but the penalty missed its mark. The Hoosiers responded with an Alex Dorrier line break and Tyler Sousley finishing the sequence in the tryzone. The conversion was wide, but Indiana was immediately back the attack and Matt Davey scored in the corner following good forward play. Dorrier converted the try for the 12-0 lead.
After about ten minutes of back and forth, the Buckeyes found themselves deep in enemy territory. After multiple attempts at the goal line from the pack, prop Spencer Krueger finally crossed the whitewash for the try. With the momentum, the OSU forwards took advantage of an IU penalty to jam the ball in for Matt Stauder try. Inside center Andrew Baldado converted both kicks for the 14-12 tally.
The Buckeyes could have added to their total late in the half with a penalty attempt but chose the scrum. Unfortunately, the ball was lost shortly after and half came to a close.
The second half started with a bang as Indiana took the kickoff back for power try and stretch by eightman Dacoda Worth. OSU answered seven minutes later on a counter-attack by Ronan Forrestal. The fullback evaded tacklers and swung the ball to the wing where Derek Hess dotted it down in the corner. The missed conversion tied the game at 19-19.
In the 52nd minute, Indiana’s runners broke open the defense as Worth found space and offloaded to Sousley for his second try. The dynamic outside center fought to center the ball to make Dorrier’s conversion easier. The Hoosiers came right back after the kickoff getting inside the 22. Forwards ball was sent out to the backs where Forrestal dragged defenders into the endzone for the score. The Baldado conversion missed and OSU trailed by two points at 26-24.
On the subsequent deep kickoff, OSU cleared the ball out to the 40. After a penalty, IU got a lineout at five meters after the wing ran down the sideline. The forwards pounded at the line for several phases before Conner Marsh bulldozed through three defenders for a try in the left corner. Dorrier made the important conversion from the sideline for the 33-24 lead.
Not to be stopped, Ohio State kept punching and Mark Varner found paydirt and Forrestal made it 33-31. Matching blow for blow, Indiana’s Jacob Ney poached the ball in the ruck as OSU was moving out of their own 22. After a penalty, IU’s Takura Suzuki went quick and offloaded to Teddy Terezis for the try. Dorrier missed the kick and led 38-31.
With less than five minutes remaining, the Buckeyes regained possession and worked the ball sideline to sideline. After stretching the defense, Nate Taylor found daylight on the wing. With defenders bearing down, Taylor touched the ball down near the sideline instead of fighting to center the ball. With the game-tying conversion next, Baldado’s kick was wide.
Down by two with little time left, Ohio State got the best possible restart as Indiana’s kickoff went out the back of the endzone. With a scrum center, the Buckeyes controlled the set piece and set up their attack. The scrumhalf picked the ball and passed to the fullback who knocked it on. The next play was Indiana’s scrum which it won and kicked the ball into touch for the 38-36 victory.
Ohio State head coach Tom Rooney described the final play to Rugby Today. “At the end of the game, they had a kick go out of bounds and we got a scrum center. We got to run our best play and we muffed it. It can’t get much better than that.”
“There were plenty of opportunities for us to finish,” Rooney added. “It did come down to conversions or a missed penalty earlier in the game, but seven points in the first game, five points the second time, and two points this time. We just keep getting better. This by far was the best game of the three. We were chasing them because they had the lead, but we felt pretty confident. We just ran out of time.”
Both coaches gave praise to their senior leadership for this season’s success. On the Indiana side, Dacoda Worth, Jake Ney, Alex Dorrier, and Teddy Terezis led the way for the Hoosiers while Bret Dixon, Matt Stauder, Jamie Barlow, and Jojo Eramo were the leaders for OSU.
Indiana’s Sousley summed up the Big Ten Championship saying,” Today was a hard-fought match that came down to the last second. Despite being a lot smaller than OSU, we did a good job matching their physicality across the board. After going head to head with OSU three times during the fall, the rivalry has only gotten stronger. They bring their A-game each time we compete, which is something you have to respect.”