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James Madison cheesing after the win. Ted Kunkel photo

James Madison defeated Wisconsin-Whitewater 40-22 to claim the 2015 USA Rugby DII 7s National Title. The Dukes started slow out of the gate this weekend, but found their stride mid way through day one and swept through the field to win the cup. The Dukes lost their first game of the tournament to Notre Dame College, and looked to be headed to 0-2 and likely out of cup contention when they trailed Southern Illinois 20-7 with less than a minute to play. A couple of late scores and a conversion with zeros on the clock gave the Dukes a one-point victory. After narrowly defeating SIU, the Dukes upped their intensity and won their final four games of the tournament comfortably. James Madison blanked the Coast Guard in the quarterfinals and ended the surprise run from the University of St. Louis with 36-7 victory. JMU got on the board early in the semi-finals through Michael Barry. The Harrisonburg based side stole the opening kickoff, and despite appearing to knock the ball on, Michael Barry snuck through the left flank to give the Dukes an early lead. The Gonzaga product was a try scoring machine all weekend and his dynamic play was a central part of the JMU success. The Billikens responded with a well-worked team try after a line break. They used several phases before darting over in the right corner to even the contest. It was all the scoring, St. Louis would do however, as the Dukes ran away with the contest. Mo Katz danced through the SLU defense for an 80 meter try and then a sensational one handed offload from Chris Kunkel to Barry added another score. Kunkel powered through a defender on the left sideline, Barry earned the hat-trick and a stolen lineout gave Kunkel his second of the game to cap off the victory. Whitewater defeated UNC Wilmington in the quarterfinals and avenged its fall loss to Minnesota Duluth in the 15 aside national championship. The War Hawks snuck away with a 15-14 victory over their rivals from Minnesota in the semis. Wisconsin took the first possession and earned the first points of the game through an unconverted try. Logan Hanson, however, evened the scoring for Duluth, despite losing his shoe in the process. Tyler Fuchs ran 80 meters to regain the lead for UWW. It looked like it would not be for long, but Trace Volstad knocked the ball on while reaching for pay dirt and the halftime whistle blew. At the break, UWW led 10-7. UWW struck first in the second half to increase the lead to 15-7. Hanson charged down a kick, however, and the referee awarded a penalty try for playing the man without the ball. With a minute remaining, Duluth kicked off and forced a turnover. The Fighting Penguins worked their way down the field but were called for failing to release the ball on the UWW 5-meter line. The War Hawks kicked to touch an escaped with a victory. The first half of the cup final was a track meet as the teams exchanged scores early and often. UWW got on the board first by outflanking the JMU defense. Eric Pachowitz went in untouched down the right sideline for the 5-0 lead. JMU responded through their All-American prop Mo Katz. Katz is one of the most dynamic props in the DII scene, showing some slick footwork to get in under the posts to take a 7-5 lead. The seesaw battle continued as UWW retook the lead 10-7 before Chris Kunkel spun out of several tackles and darted over for the 12-10 lead. Alec Treuhardt put the War Hawks back in front when he raced down the left sideline, but once again the Dukes responded. Michael Barry stepped a defender on the left sideline and scored right before halftime to give the Dukes a 19-17 lead. Kunkel opened the scoring in the second half, once again bouncing out of a tackle and dotting down. Unlike the first half, however, UWW did not respond, allowing Nathanial Norwood to score in the corner. The 15 aside winger beat his opposite number in a one on one battle and put the Dukes up 33-17. The War Hawks got a little bit of a spark thanks to a botched kickoff from JMU. Katz knocked the ball backwards, but JMU was unable to corral the ball and Garrett Shinliski pounced on the ball and took it 80 meters for the score. It was not to be for Whitewater however, as JMU spent much of the second half with the ball. The War Hawks were exhausted from playing a large amount of the second stanza on defense and eventually cracked with very little time left on the clock. Chase Key sprinted through and found pay dirt with no time remaining on the clock to seal a 40-22 victory. Kunkel Barry and Katz proved to be a dynamic trio, with at least one being involved in most of the JMU scores. Combined with a solid defensive structure, the Dukes earned the 2015 USA Rugby DII 7s National Title.