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Is there a chink in Minnesota-Duluth’s armor? The Fighting Penguins haven’t lost a rugby game in over a year-and-a-half, and they haven’t played a close game in pretty much the same time frame. They won their previous playoff games 71-5 and 67-0. So, if there’s one detraction you can argue against Duluth, it’s that they haven’t played a close game in a long time.
“It would have been nicer to have a little closer game and test,” said Duluth coach Jeramy Katchuba. “But our guys were clicking pretty well on both Saturday and Sunday.”
Saturday on Furman's campus in Greenville, S.C., the Penguins will field 11 of the 15 starters that beat Salisbury in last year’s title match on the same pitch. It would be 12, but fullback Austin Haecherl was knocked out in the regional rounds after colliding with flanker Luc Desroches. Desroches will be back in action this weekend.
The guys who draw the opponent’s attention when they get off the bus are No. 8 Jake Luetgers and prop Derrek Van Kline. They’re big, mobile, tough units. But the Penguins have some backs, too. Outside center Logan Hansen is a dangerous ball carrier, and flyhalf Trace Bolstad is coming into his own as a game breaker.
“He’s probably the leader of our team right now,” said Katchuba of Hansen.
“I think when it’s all said and done,” added the coach, speaking of Bolstad, “if he puts on some more weight, he’ll be getting looks from a lot higher levels.”
Duluth is a straight forward team, used to running right over the top of opponents. But, if forced to change things up by a strong defensive effort, Katchuba says the Penguins are malleable.
“I know we kind of get pigeonholed for playing a certain style, but until someone stops it, why would you move away from it just to prove you can do something else,” said Katchuba. “We have the ability to play pretty much any kind of game. Our flyhalf, I think when it’s all said and done, if he puts on some more weight, he’ll be getting looks from a lot higher levels.”
Though they didn’t play James Madison in the Final Four last year, the Penguins did get to watch the Dukes in Greenville.
“They’re definitely a very skilled team. It’ll be an interesting contrast in style. They like to maneuver the ball all around the field,” said Katchuba.
“Obviously, they’ve got big Tim Katz coming out from the props and filling in. I think we was off the outside center quite a bit. Their flyhalf, Chris Kunkel, was a really great player. They look pretty skilled one through 15. We’re going to have to try to figure out how to defend their wide ball, or else it will be a long day for us.”
Step one to defending James Madison’s wide ball – don’t let James Madison have the ball at all.
“Possession and ball retention, we spend a huge chunk of our practices just focusing on our basics and making sure we don’t lose the ball,” said Katchuba. “Obviously, if the other team doesn’t have the ball they can’t score.”