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It will be a Minnesota-Wisconsin final in the St. Louis region, as UM-Duluth ran Colorado College off the park, 71-5, Saturday, and UW-Stout squeaked past Saint Louis University, 31-26, in St. Louis, Mo. The Blue Devils and Fighting Penguins will do battle Sunday to see who advances to the Final Four.
Duluth pushed Colorado College all over the field on the day, as expected.
“Colorado College was semi-effective coming up and meeting them from breakdown to breakdown, but their forwards were so versatile,” said UW-Stout player-coach Brad Dufek of the Penguins, who took in the first half of the Duluth game before prepping for his own. “They get deep in the backline, they run on the ball well. They ruck very well.”
In the other match, it was a contrast of styles, as the smaller SLU excelled in the lineouts, while the bigger Blue Devils dominated the scrums. They traded tries early in the first half, but UW-Stout outside center Stetson Smith picked off a wide SLU pass and ran it back 50 meters to put Stout up a try going into the half. Smith would break his leg later in the game.
SLU had some opportunities go begging, including a potential try in the first half. The Billikens had gotten into the try zone on the football field on which they were playing, but the referee seemed to be confused by the positioning of the uprights (behind the try zones), and ended up stopping play to award a penalty to SLU. If play had continued, the Billikens may well have dotted down, but they couldn’t capitalize after the stoppage.
Stout’s larger forwards were the key to the Blue Devil attack on the day, and that was by design.
“We kept possession with our forwards, banged it, banged it, got the ball out a few effective times. We emphasized getting to the rucks and then attacking with the forwards again,” said Dufek. “We take pride in our really good forward play, but especially today we definitely recognized our advantage in that, so we went with it.”
Scrumhalf Pete Wikman also had a big day, scoring twice. One came off a pick at the back of a scrum. The SLU halfback was overpursuing, and Wikman was able to reverse direction and dart in for a score. A similar play helped set up another Blue Devil try.
While SLU’s forwards were outweighed as a whole, as couple of guys stepped up to the challenge. Flanker Kevin Reilly scored two tries for the Billikens, and No. 8 Adam Pavlakis was unstoppable in the lineouts.
Duluth, the defending National Champion, is the heavy favorite in Sunday’s regional final. However, Stout, which played UW-Whitewater tough in the WIIL final a few weeks back, believes it can stay in the mix with 80 of its best minutes.
“We’ve been playing really good defense, setting, spreading, covering the entire field,” said Dufek. “If we can do that effectively tomorrow, I think we can have a chance. Basically, playing like we have as long as we’re coming up and meeting them on their side of the line, we should do OK.”