The era of the new varsity rugby continues as Davenport claimed their second straight national D1-AA title Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Davenport followed on Lindenwood’s DII title run, and were about as dominant, beating a tough-minded San Diego State team 39-0.
From the beginning it was clear that the teams matched up well in most areas, but Davenport had the measure of the Aztecs in some critical parts of the game – their flyhalf, JP Eloff, is the best in the business, their in-match fitness was superior as befits a varsity team, and they were just a little crisper in their execution.
Davenport got on the board early when a kick from Eloff rolled between two SD State backs. Travis Kamstra chased the ball down for the Panthers, and after a ruck, flanker Ryan Hargraves drove over in the corner.
San Diego State suffered a blow when flyhalf Kaleikaumaka Konrad went down injured. He stayed on for a few minutes, but was eventually replaced. San Diego State had hardly seen the ball, and now were without their key playmaker.
Davenport, meanwhile, got to work. They pounded the inside channels, facing the aggressive SD State forwards without fear. Once they sucked in the Aztec defenders they looked wider and brought wing Lance Cavanaugh up the middle. That set up the attack for Davenport to send Hargraves over for his second.
SD State had ball and the opportunity to attack, but the Davenport defense was too solid, forcing the Aztecs to run sideways and run themselves out of room.
Meanwhile, referee Paul Bretz was busy trying to police rucks and tackle situations where both sides kept breaking the rules.
Davenport kept working the kick and chase, obviously having identified that as an area to attack from. One kick from Eloff looked to be too long, but bounced perfectly for wing Mason Baum for an excellent try. San Diego State made life even more difficult for themselves by making an error on the kickoff. They barely survived that mistake, and then barely survived another big play.
Eloff sidestepped and ran well out of his 22, before setting up Cavanaugh to go the rest of the way. He was just hauled down in the corner.
SD State were able to work some good runs, especially from hooker Jaime Kelm and centers Bryan Pione and Frank Ramos. But in making sure of each pass and catch, their attack started to slow when they looked for width.
Those mistakes kept them in their end, and Davenport scored from an eightman shove on a scrum that was not their put-in – scrumhalf Joe Marino diving on the ball in-goal.
That made it 24-0 at halftime.
The second half slowed a little, as Davenport started to commit a series of penalties. Failure to retreat ten after one such penalty earned lock Demecus Beach ten minutes on the sideline.
Davenport survived that, though – again just stopped SD State before they made the line.
Then at 56 minutes Cavanaugh made a break and kicked ahead, He was impeded, and that resulted in a scrum five for the Panthers. They won the ball, worked a phase, and sent center Adam Ries over.
SD State halted the scoring run by keeping the ball a little better. But they just couldn’t make the breaks count. Several times Aztec backs made long runs, but fund themselves all alone.
It was Davenport that would score once more. A kick ahead saw Eloff chase. He didn’t get the ball but he forced fullback Kevin Green to hurry a kick to the sideline farthest from him. The ball rolled right into Kamstra’s hands, and he set up Cavanaugh for an easy try.
Up 34-0, Davenport had it in the bag.
Kamstra got one more, capping off a long attack down the field. Eloff set his center up for the final score.
In the end, this was game much like the rest on Saturday’s day of finals. One team battled hard and never stopped, but could not break the line or get any continuity. And the other team was just better – working their pattern and playing a disciplined game that produced, in the end, a convincing win.
Tries: Hargraves 2, Baum, Marino, Ries, Cavanaugh, Kamstra
Convs: Eloff 2
San Diego State 0
Notes: This was the final match officiated by Paul Bretz, who has long been one of American rugby’s top referees for years. JP Eloff earned the game MVP award.