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Indiana claimed the second-ever Big Ten Universities Championship Saturday, beating Michigan 58-38 in a wild, windy contest in Elkhart, Ind. The Wolverines actually led 25-17 at halftime, but the Hoosiers parlayed the switch of fields into a 41-13 second half.
A very strong wind blew vertically down the field, making it extremely hard for Indiana to kick for territory in the first half, and nearly impossible for Michigan to get out of its own end in the second. The difference in the game was how well Indiana played against the wind in the beginning, jumping out to a 12-0 advantage.
“They pressured us well early in our own end and managed to block kicks and pressure our kicks when we had the wind,” Michigan coach Matt Trenary said.
Michigan’s Sequoyah Burke-Combs ripped off some big runs for the Wolverines in the first half, setting up or scoring a couple of tries. The Wolverines were also helped by IU’s decision to go for tries instead of kick against the wind for penalties. And Michigan pestered the Hoosiers more than they had been in recent weeks.
“We’d been playing a very methodical game the last couple of games, and they pressured us and made us play a faster pace than we were comfortable playing for a while,” said Indiana’s Sam Zivot. “So they had us on the ropes, but we persevered through it.”
Indiana entered the contest wanting to kick to the corners and play a territorial game, and in the second half, the wind allowed them to do just that.
“They were able to pin us deep and we had a hard time getting it out of there,” said Trenary. “Pretty much anytime they got us in our 22 we couldn't exit, and it resulted in them scoring.”
Indiana piled on the points in the second half, scoring 41 through several different means, and the fact that they had plenty of juice left for the final stretch helped.
“Ultimately, we’ve been just killing ourselves with fitness and it’s kind of worked. We played a bunch of different games this season in terms of how we played, and this being kind of a little bit of everything,” said Zivot.
“It was a slow game, a fast game, some strong runners would come through the defense at times, but ultimately we went down to the basics we’re good at it. We moved the ball wide and scored at the wing and scored off set pieces and had a couple of well-supported runs.”
The win caps off an undefeated Big Ten season for the Hoosiers, who will forgo the American Collegiate Rugby Championship postseason and regroup for a run in the DI-A playoffs in the spring.
“It was the validation of all the hard work we’ve put in,” said Zivot. “Me and some of the senior guys who are graduating, it was just the best possible note we could go out on, and we’re just super happy with the way it all went down. Our younger guys all stepped up and helped us get there.”