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It took several years, but Wisconsin-Whitewater finally captured its second DII national title. After falling to Minnesota-Duluth in the last two national finals, the Warhawks outlasted a talented Furman side 29-13 on Furman’s home turf to take home its first title since 2011.
After beating Norwich convincingly on Saturday, the Warhawks faced off with a Furman side that bested the three-time defending national champions Minnesota-Duluth. After traveling nearly 15 hours to play, it was no easy feat to best a Furman side playing on its own campus.
“It is a little bit of an intimidation factor playing against the host team on their home field,” said senior captain Eric Pachowitz. “They had a bunch of fans and it was a great environment, USA Rugby put on a great show and Furman hosted a great tournament.”
Whitewater imposed itself in the early stages of the game and cracked the score sheet in the seventh minute. Off a five-meter scrum, Whitewater swung it left, and Garrett Shibilski slotted into the line from his fullback position to score the first try of the game. Tim Grams added the conversion for a 7-0 lead.
The Warhawks kept their foot on the gas but it did not translate into points. The Wisconsin team knocked the ball at the goal line a pair of times and Furman played stout defense for most of the first half.
“We had the ball in their zone for five to seven minutes and they did a great job of stopping us,” Pachowitz said of Furman.
After Furman got on the board with a Penalty, however, Whitewater scored twice in the final five minutes of the half. Their powerful backline was on display all weekend, with Alec Treuthardt putting his speed on full display with a pair of scores. The winger got the ball out wide off a scrum, beat his opposite number to the outside and scampered in down the sideline to score his first. Treuthhardt then accelerated through the Furman defense in the middle of the field to extend the lead to 17-3 as halftime approached.
“The kid is unreal. The fact that he is not being looked at on a higher level is beyond us but we are so happy to have him. The kid has unbelievable speed and his abilities are amazing,” Pachowitz said
Furman founds its footing in the second half, though, getting the first score of the second stanza. The Paladin’s dominated the Whitewater scrum, causing a number of penalties and taking one against the head. On one such occasion, Furman spun the ball wide and wing Hunter Branch danced his way through for a try in the left corner. The conversion was missed leaving the score 17-8.
A series of missed opportunities hampered Furman’s comeback effort after the score. The Paladins continued to play strong defense. It was a clever kick ahead by fly half by Patchowitz that gave Whitewater the back breaking score. Center Levi Van Lanen chased the kick and was the recipient of a bit of luck to score the try that extended the lead to 24-8. Furman botched the clearance kick completely, allowing Van Lanen to dive on it for the score.
Furman continued to fight, adding a pick and go score at right on the goal line in the 65th minute. Prop Robbie Greco cut the lead to 24-13 but Furman missed the conversion.
Conor Bell sealed the game with a try in the waning seconds and Whitewater went onto to win the game 29-13.
After several years of frustration, it was a great triumph for Pachowitz and his fellow seniors. None of the current squad was around for the 2011 title run, so it was a great sendoff for the already accomplished senior class. For Brandon Lopez, Jack Healy, Jake Huskisson, Bell and Pachowitz, the team will be left in good hands.
“It is relieving that we finally got the win. We have 10 underclass starters that are hoping to carry the torch like we did for three years and continue the Whitewater Warhawk way.”
With only five starters leaving for Graduation, look for Whitewater to be right in the thick of things once again next season.