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As is the case every year, 24 college teams have converged on Las Vegas this week to decide one of only two open qualification spots for the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, June 2-4 at Talen Energy Stadium in suburban Philadelphia.
After pool play, eight teams remain in the hunt. All six pools saw their winners go undefeated. They, along with the two best second-place teams have advanced to Friday’s quarterfinal. Two quarterfinalists, Kutztown and St. Joe’s, already have at-large bids to the CRC in hand.
Kutztown was the most consistently dominant team throughout pool play, with the smallest margin of victory being 26. St. Joe’s was also very good, the Hawks’ closest games being 19-point victories over Colorado and Tulane. Air Force was also near perfect, conceding just two tries on the day, but the Zoomies’ lack of offense hurt them in the point differential category.
Taking the top seed is Lindenwood-Belleville. The Lynx, making their third-straight quarterfinal appearance at this tournament, blew out Northeastern to start the day, but sputtered in game two, barely escaping New Mexico, 12-7, needing a knock-on to be missed to seal the win. They took their new lease on life seriously, blanking Colorado State – Pueblo 66-0 in the pool finale to win the point differential race.
Utah, champions of the inaugural CRC in 2010 and winners of the LVI in 2016, also went undefeated on day one. The Utes had to work for it, though, squeaking past Fordham 10-5 in their first game of the day. Dixie State wasn’t an easy out either, but Utah managed to get through unbeaten. Dixie State finished second in this tough pool but didn’t have the point differential to make the top eight.
The surprise of the day was Utah State. The Aggies went 3-0, beating Colorado State, Western Michigan and Buffalo. And they did so somewhat convincingly, with the upset over the Rams being by two scores. Sneaking into the quarterfinals as second-place finishers are Colorado State and Northeastern.
The battle for top seed was incredibly important, as there are three teams who look most poised to make a run at the title – Kutztown, St. Joe’s and Lindenwood-Belleville, arguably in that order. Whoever finished with the best point differential would avoid the other two until the final.
All three are anchored by some special individuals. KU’s D’Montae Noble is a sight to see. As a freshman, he tore up the CRC last year, and he is not having a sophomore slump. He did hurt his hand Thursday, so it’s possible that injury will have a negative effect in the knockout rounds. St. Joe’s is led by Noah Niumataiwalu, who is the best pure playmaker in the tournament. And Lindenwood-Belleville leaned heavily on senior Ben Martin, who was consistently a danger with ball in hand.
Of course, the other contenders have good players, too, and the chalk doesn’t always hold. Kutztown looks like the heavy frontrunner. For St. Joe’s and Belleville to have a chance, they’ll need to avoid upsets before notching one of their own against the Golden Bears
The quarterfinals and semifinals will take place Friday, with the winners meeting Friday in the final at 3:21 p.m. local time amid the HSBC Sevens World Series.
Quarterfinal Matchups (Winner of 1v8 plays winner of 4v5)
#1 Lindenwood-Belleville vs. #8 Northeastern
#2 Kutztown vs. #7 Colorado State
#3 St. Joe's vs. #6 Utah
#4 Air Force vs. #5 Utah State
|LU-Belleville||66||0||Colorado St. Pueblo|
|Northeastern||28||5||Colorado St. Pueblo|
|New Mexico||31||0||Colorado St. Pueblo|
|Dixie State||22||14||Michigan State|
|St. Joe's||54||0||Southern Utah|
|Utah State||21||12||Colorado State|
|Utah State||26||0||Western Michigan|
|Colorado State||19||12||Western Michigan|
|Air Force||31||5||Montana State|
|Air Force||28||0||Pitt State|
|Montana State||28||0||Pitt State|
|Colorado St. Pueblo||0||3||0||3||-120|