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Duluth with ball against LU-Belleville. Lisa Gilliam photo

The DII national final is set, as Minnesota-Duluth advanced with 30-18 defeat of Salisbury in one semifinal Saturday and Wisconsin-Whitewater beat Towson 53-22 in the other. This marks the second year in a row Duluth and Whitewater will meet in the title match.

The lone common opponent for the Fighting Penguins and Warhawks this fall? Lindenwood-Belleville, the team I happen to coach. We fell 46-3 to Duluth in the quarterfinals and 45-20 to Whitewater in the WIIL conference title match.

I don’t plan to make a habit of writing from the first-person perspective as a coach, but this is a unique opportunity where someone might actually find it interesting, so here goes.

At just a glance, the scores suggest Duluth should be favored Sunday. However, it’s important to note a couple of things.

One, we fielded a better team against Whitewater than we did against Duluth. The day before the Duluth game we lost our captain and tighthead Pat Donovan to a knee injury and our best defender in openside flanker Alex Quinn to a concussion. Two, the several inches of snow were a factor Duluth was better equipped to handle. It might, emphasis on might, have been a better game on a dry track like they’ll have in Greenville, S.C. tomorrow.

That’s not at all to say Duluth won because we were injured and the weather was poor. Duluth was the better team, just like Whitewater was, but I believe these factors help explain the disparity in the scores. I think Saturday’s semifinal results were more indicative. Against really even teams (Towson and Salisbury went 1-1 against each other this year), Whitewater had an easier go of it.

Duluth’s pack has a slight edge over Whitewater’s. There is more experience there, a little more size and dynamism. No. 8 Luc Desroches has big play capability for the Fighting Penguins. I’m not sure anyone in the Whitewater pack does. If they’re to win, I think the Penguins need to claim a little extra possession in the set pieces and breakdown.

Whitewater’s edge is in the outside backs. Fullback Eric Pachowitz is the best in the nation in DII. Wing Alec Treuthardt is a stud. Like, I think he needs to be considered by All-American coach Gavin Hickie. Robby Sindic is a big load for an outside center. Whitewater would be best served to get these guys involved early and often. And Duluth might be best served to put a leash on flyhalf Trace Bolstad’s kicking to them.

Like with any game, it’s often not a team’s strengths that wins the day, but how well it does managing its relative weaknesses. So this contest can’t be boiled down to Duluth’s forwards versus Whitewater’s backs. Whitewater has some good forwards, and Duluth has some damn fine backs, like Logan Hanson and Matt Martin.

However, I think Whitewater is a more complete team with more dynamism throughout the lineup. It’s going to be very close, but if it’s not, I think it’ll be Whitewater creating separation. And I think the Warhawks will win a close one, too. That said, a straw poll of my players who were in the trenches against Duluth and Whitewater revealed they thought Duluth was the better team. What do any of us know? Well, I know this, I'll be watching at 3 p.m. ET tomorrow when Duluth and Whitewater settle it on the field.