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Ian Muir photo

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-Belleville127New Mexico
LU-Belleville660Colorado St. Pueblo
Northeastern285Colorado St. Pueblo
Northeastern260New Mexico
New Mexico310Colorado St. Pueblo
Utah220Dixie State
Utah275Michigan State
Dixie State1914Fordham
Dixie State2214Michigan State
Fordham310Michigan State
St. Joe's267Colorado
St. Joe's190Tulane
St. Joe's540Southern Utah
Colorado330Southern Utah
Tulane315Southern Utah
Utah State2112Colorado State
Utah State260Western Michigan
Utah State335Buffalo
Colorado State1912Western Michigan
Colorado State310Buffalo
Western Michigan1712Buffalo
Air Force297UVU
Air Force315Montana State
Air Force280Pitt State
UVU280Pitt State
UVU1917Montana State
Montana State280Pitt State
New Mexico12050
Colorado St. Pueblo0303-120
Dixie State2107-9
Michigan State0303-61
St. Joe's3009+92
Southern Utah0303-113
Utah State3009+63
Colorado State2107+29
Western Michigan1205-28
Air Force3009+76
Utah Valley2107+8
Montana State12050
Pitt State0303-84