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In a decisive 53-22 victory over #3 Towson in the National Semifinal at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., #2 UW-Whitewater will return to the 2015 USA Rugby Division II National Championship on Sunday. The Warhawks utilized their quick attack offense and their stout defensive play to beat the Tigers. Towson had most of the possession in the game, but could not finish with tries. The Tigers were able to close within 12 points of the lead in the second half, however, two yellow cards by Towson led to three tries by the Warhawks to break open the game. The victory sets up a rematch with UM-Duluth for the National Championship on Sunday.
“We had 15 guys who played their hearts out today,” UW-Whitewater (UW-W) head coach Pat O’Connor said. “Everybody in the scrum did what they needed to do both in set pieces, lineouts and rucks. That produced results that the backs could take advantage of.”
“Our defense was stellar,” O’Connor added. “We were down there for ten plus minutes holding Towson at bay. It was not a position you want to be in, but we were able to pull that off and they walked away with a penalty kick. Our rucking was consistent all the way through. When we started to put our finishers in, the second group of eight, it was pretty much seamless. That shows that we have reached that level where we can get that seamless transfer of personnel.”
The UW-W offense attacked with pace scoring on their first two possessions in the first five minutes of play. Hooker Garrett Shibilski scored the Warhawks’ first try in the second minute after a quick skip pass around the corner to score on the wing. UW-W attacked the left side again three minutes later when Alec Treuthardt took the corner beating the defender for the try. With two conversions and a subsequent penalty kick by Tim Grams, the Warhawks had the 17-0 advantage at the 13th minute mark.
“Those two quick tries set the tone,” O’Connor remarked after the first half flurry. “It stunned Towson and I think if we had let up, they would have certainly tried to get back in... In the 39th minute we get another try to go up 24-3. It was a good feeling, we were up and we had momentum.”
After the early onslaught, Towson collected itself and retained possession to focus on getting back into the game. Towson attacked for almost ten minutes inside UW-W’s territory, but the Warhawks repelled the Tigers each time. UW-W’s defense stood tall as all Towson managed to score was three points on an Eric Sweeney penalty kick at the 29th minute.
Just before the half, UW-W quick strike offense flourished once again. After a knock on by Towson inside its 22, a crash ball to Robby Sindic saw him break three tackles on the way to the tryzone. Grams tacked on the conversion for the 24-3 halftime lead.
The second half began with UW-W adding to its lead to 27-3 with a penalty kick by Grams. Towson responded with two tries by methodically working the downfield after eliminating the mistakes they made in the first half. Hooker Jason Laria scored first following a five-meter lineout where he recovered his throw to muscle through the line. Nine minutes later, Greg Driebelbis scored on the wing after a multitude of phase ball. Sweeney’s conversion closed the gap to 27-15.
Unfortunately for Towson, the Tigers’ Tim Shields were assessed a yellow card for a high tackle in the 60th minute. On the ensuing possession, Sindic sent a kick to the chasing Shibilski for the try. Penalties got worse for Towson when three minutes later, Will Ngonga was sent off for repeated infractions. Again, UW-W pounced on the man advantage with Sindic racing in practically untouched on a crash ball at the 65th minute. Grams made his fourth conversion to extend the lead to 39-15.
Still with the two-man advantage, UW-W struck again when Eric Pachowitz broke line and the ball was sent wide where reserve Connor Bell finished with the try. Down 46-15 with ten minutes remaining, Towson returned to full strength at the same time UW-W’s Zack Pryes was yellow carded for a high tackle. The Tigers used the extra man to score in the 74th minute after a line break by Nick DiPietro and phase ball turned into a Brian Shields try.
In the end, the Warhawk offense was too much for Towson as they scored once more as Bell scored his second try following a line break form Healy. Gram’s sixth conversion made the score 53-22 and the whistle blew soon after sending UW-W to the National Championship.
O’Conner was proud of how all his players worked as a team. Several players especially had a significant impact of the outcome of the game. “Robby Sindic, both for distributing the ball, setting up scores, and scoring. Garrett Shibilski, for scoring several times, his lineout throws were spot on, and some great tackling on the loose. Eric Pachowitz, his leadership inserting and guiding the team, setting everybody else up. As a finisher, second row Connor Bell was able to put down two tries for us. Tim Gram, our No. 9 and kicker, was very consistent today. It was a team effort for sure.”
With the back-to-back nature of the championship weekend, UW-W has to shift its focus to its familiar foe in UM-Duluth for Sunday. “It wasn’t 15 individuals out there, it was 15 working as one,” O’Conner said. “If we show with the intensity and sense of oneness we had today, we can beat anybody. That’s what we are going to work to bring to the pitch tomorrow. Duluth has been there and won National Championships and they know what it takes to win.”