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The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater defeated the Virginia Military Institute 34-27 in dramatic fashion to capture its second consecutive DII National Title. With the game tied 27-27 at the 75 minute mark, winger Alec Treuthardt found a gap out wide and sprinted 60 meters for the game winning score.
Both VMI and Whitewater played semifinals on Saturday but VMI by far had the tougher game. The Warhawks bested North Dakota State 51-25 while VMI needed a sudden death try in minute 101 to beat Norwich University.
Both teams looked a little tired and lacking sharpness on the second day of a back-to-back but the effort was incredible. The first half was a see saw battle with, Whitewater striking first. Truethardt managed to find a seam and with a bit of individual brilliance gave Whitewater a 5-0 lead.
“There is nobody in DII rugby that can match the speed of Treuthardt and it is nice to have him out on the wing,” said Whitewater captain Levi Van Lanen.
VMI responded, however, with a try off a mauling line out. John Keppeler dotted down after the Keydets drove the line out to even the score. The teams traded tries to even the game at 10 but a brilliant pass from fullback Garrett Shibilski sent Jeremiah O’Brien in for a 17-10 lead.
The momentum began to shift in favor of the Keydets, however. The Virginia school tallied of 17 consecutive points to take a 27-17 halftime lead. A yellow card and dominance at the scrum and breakdown sent Whitewater to unfamiliar place at halftime. Trailing.
“We were relatively calm. Obviously being down 10 points in a national championship game, some teams may go away from what they have been doing all year but we stuck to our game plan,” said Van Lanen.
With a number of years playing in the national final four, and a number of seasoned seniors, Whitewater righted the ship. The Warhawks held a tiring VMI team at bay and began pounding its defenses. After a try by Zack Pryes, the Wisconsin school kept attacking. Tim Grams missed a penalty but a few minutes later got a shot at redemption and nailed the kick to even the game at 27-27.
Both teams pushed for the game winning score and it looked like VMI was on pace to get it. The Warhawks defense held strong and the potent back line won the game for them. Shibilski found a gap and sprung Truethardt out wide to score the eventual game winner.
“Garrett is one heck of an athlete and can probably play any position on the field. He has a killer instinct and is able to attack a defense if he sees a gap. He exploited space out wide and found Truethardt out on the wing,” Van Lanen said of his fullback.
Whitewater held on in the final five minutes. VMI continued to attack for the game tying score but a knock on inside the 22 ended the Keydets hope for another overtime affair.
For Whitewater, the win caps off another DII title. The Warhawks, impressively, have not lost a 15s game in over two seasons and remain the perennial power in DII.
“It is a great victory for us and hopefully we can continue to retool for next year to defend our title again. It is great to send our seniors, who have given so much to the program, with a championship and end their college rugby career on a very high note,” Van Lanen concluded.