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After all the dust settled from the conference championships concluded Saturday, USA Rugby released the 2016 DIAA Fall National Playoffs Bracket to the participating teams. On November 19th and 20th, the first two rounds will be played at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky. and at Founders Field in Pittsburgh, Pa.

In the East Regional at Eastern Kentucky University, #2 Bowling Green State University will take on #7 Mount St. Mary’s and #3 James Madison will battle #6 Lindenwood-Belleville. In Pittsburgh, #1 Notre Dame College will challenge #8 Syracuse and #4 St. Joseph’s plays #5 Cincinnati. The winners of Saturday’s opening round will face off on Sunday in the National Quarterfinals.

The DIAA National Fall Championship weekend is scheduled for December 4th and 5th at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. The National Semifinals will be on Saturday with the National Championship on Sunday.

#1 Notre Dame College versus #8 Syracuse

The #1 against #8 match in the Round of Eight features the prohibitive favorite against the runner-up from the Empire Conference. In its fifth year of competition, independent Notre Dame College returns to Nationals to finish the job it failed to complete last season. After losing to UC-Davis in the 2015 National Championship and only three players to graduation, the Falcons are primed to make their mark in the playoffs with ten seniors and plenty of experience.

With the pack specializing in ball retention, the forwards set a platform for NDC’s dynamic backline, which is a byproduct of its talented 7s program. The coaching staff preaches structure and a team philosophy to the Falcons.

With impressive wins over ranked D1A opponents Wheeling Jesuit, Navy, Davenport, and Indiana, Notre Dame College prepared for this season’s playoff run by challenging itself with multiple high quality clubs. The victories on the road at Davenport and Indiana were character builders for the club, but NDC knows anything can happen in college rugby.

“Any given Saturday, teams cannot play up to their potential and other teams can play very well,” Fox stated. “We have to keep that in backs of our head and we have to look at it like we are the underdog in every match. We are going to have that attitude going into the playoffs.”

NDC has experience with Syracuse after defeating the Hammerheads by five points, 33-28, in the ACRC Bowl Series in Charlotte, N.C. last November. Syracuse will be looking for revenge when it meets NDC on November 19th in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Syracuse’s forward pack is the driving force of the club with Anthony Pugliese, Eric Fray, and Andrew Burdsall making impacts all over the field. Captain and #8 Angus Bishop leads by example with hard hits and has a nose for the tryline. Matt Magargee is deadly with his boot and Jake Smith is great with ball in hand.

After going 4-2 in the regular season, the defending champion Hammerheads played Binghamton in the Empire Conference Final on Saturday. In an intense dogfight, Binghamton came from behind to beat Syracuse in the second half, 21-20.

After Binghamton declined to play in the DIAA Playoffs, Syracuse accepted the invitation to represent the Empire as the #8 seed.

#2 Bowling Green State University versus #7 Mount St. Mary’s

The top seed in the Eastern Kentucky Regional is the Mid-American Champion, Bowling Green State University. The Falcons ran roughshod over the MAC during the regular season, beat longtime rival Ohio State, 26-16, and almost completed an epic comeback against Davenport before losing 29-20.

In the MAC Playoffs this past weekend, BGSU was the #1 seed and promptly smashed Dayton in the semifinals, 72-20. In the conference final against Cincinnati, the Falcons were once again the aggressors. After only leading by two points at halftime, BGSU crushed the Bearcats in the second frame to win 53-15.

Led by the exemplary performances of Phil Bryant, Adam Regini, Mitchell Sora, and Niall McNamara in the final, the Falcons are ready to fight Mount St. Mary’s on November 19th in the East Regional.

Their opponent is the second place team out of the Chesapeake, Mount St. Mary’s. After winning the NSCRO Championship in May, the Mount joined the Chesapeake Collegiate Rugby Conference to play against higher quality regional competition.

In its first season of DIAA rugby, the Mount went 7-1 in the Chesapeake tying James Madison at the top of the standings with the same record. Although the Mountaineers defeated JMU, 36-24, the Dukes won the conference based on standing points with more bonus points. Along with the win over JMU, the Mount beat a tough Towson side, and a physical Mary Washington club. The Mountaineers’ lone defeat came from a 22-20 loss to Virginia Tech in late September.

Speaking about BGSU, Myles said, “To go against a side like Bowling Green is something that we are excited about and are very focused on right now. This speaks to the level of competition in our conference. Our boys work very hard and are humbled everyday by everything we do, especially being in the position we are in.”

In order to excel in the playoffs, Myles told Rugby Today that the Mount has to focus on the basics. “Our catch-pass, our line support, and our defensive pressure. When we apply our defensive pressure consistently for 80 minutes, we have great success. When we have our catch-pass on point, it’s a very good day for us. If we lose sight of those basics, we will struggle.”

#3 James Madison versus #6 Lindenwood-Belleville

After losing in the DIAA National Quarterfinals to AIC in April, James Madison left the Keystone Conference for the newly formed Chesapeake this fall. The Dukes averaged almost 51 points a game on the way to a 7-1 record and a conference title over Mount St. Mary’s.

JMU’s robust offense is only matched by its stingy defense allowing 15 points per game. Head coach Mark Lambourne indicated that the team’s greatest asset is its adaptability. “We are equally as strong in our forwards as we are in our backs. We don’t have a lot of superstars and I think it’s a true team who looks out for one another.”

JMU gained valuable experience in its loss last year in DIAA Playoffs. “We need to keep believing that we can compete at the next level,” Lambourne explained. “The more times you compete against better teams and you compete for 80 minutes, then you start to believe you can do that every game... Last year, we got a good lesson from AIC. We rebounded the next day to beat Middle Tennessee State. So this time we hope to put it all together from the first day.”

Regarding its first obstacle on November 19th, Lambourne added, “We got a tough draw. Linden-Belleville is a building a good program. They played some quality teams and had some good results. Even if they have had some losses, they were against good teams. It’s a tough draw for both teams.”

For the second independent team of the tournament, Lindenwood-Belleville, 2016 is the first year of DIAA play and second year of competition for the Illinois squad. The Lynx advanced to the DII National Quarterfinals in their inaugural season only to be stopped by the eventual champion, Minnesota-Duluth. Looking for a greater challenge, Lindenwood-Belleville moved up a level to DIAA.

The Lynx have had mixed results this season finishing with a 6-4 record. Lindenwood-Belleville rolled out a difficult schedule and notched wins over Tennessee, Spring Hill, Missouri, Saint Louis, and Arkansas, but lost hard fought games against Wheeling Jesuit, Davenport, Arkansas State, and Notre Dame College. The Lynx have hoped they have learned from their defeats and will apply those lessons at Nationals.

Through its trials this season, Lindenwood-Belleville knows the type of team they are. “We have a pretty capable backline and a good pack,” head coach Pat Clifton said. “We can play the ball wide and gain ground in tight. I like to think one thing we do really well is defend. We have had lapses like anyone, but we emphasize applying pressure defensively, and we’ve been able to defend every team we’ve played.”

In discussing JMU with Clifton, he said, “They’re well coached, and like most of the teams coming out of the Mid-Atlantic, they play with a chip on their shoulder. We have the utmost respect for the other teams in the Chesapeake, so if they can win that league, we know we’ve got our hands full.”

In order to advance in the DIAA Playoffs, the Lynx will have to minimize their mistakes and learn to play a more dsiciplined. “At times, we play really sophisticated, impressive rugby,” Clifton remarked. “Other times, we can’t get out of our own way. So the key for us is just not beating ourselves and rising to the occasion more consistently.”

#4 St. Joseph’s versus #5 Cincinnati

After missing out on Nationals in the spring to James Madison in the Keystone Conference Finals, St. Joseph’s rebounded this fall going undefeated and storming through the conference playoffs at the end of October. Following a 44-22 win over West Chester in the semifinals, the Hawks squared off against Rutgers in the championship.

Behind a 23 point, three-try performance by Jimmy Wolfer in the final, St. Joseph’s exploded in the second half to beat Rutgers, 43-19. Wolfer led the conference in scoring with 48 points and players like Chris Curcio, Noah Niumataiwalu, Connor McAuliffe, and Greg McTiernan have stepped up to shoulder the load.

The Hawks will face the Empire runner-up, Cincinnati in the Round of Eight in Pittsburgh. After a few non-conference losses to begin the season, Cincinnati translated that experience into a surprise 4-0 run in the south division of the Empire.

After obliterating Western Michigan in the conference semifinals, the Bearcats ran into an unstoppable force in Bowling Green in the Empire Final. Cincinnati was able to hang with the Falcons until halftime, but in the second period, the Falcons shut out the Bearcat offense and ran up the score to 53-15.

Although Cincinnati lost the final, its entry into the postseason was granted. Head coach Nick Lauterbach has a young team on his hands, but the Bearcats have shown tremendous heart over the course of the season. Relying heavily on the team concept to defeat its opponents, Grant Gallagher, Andrew Butt, Nathan Dixon, Austin Baker, and Tony Parente make up the core of the squad and have contributed in many ways to the success of the club.