|Davenport Sports Information photo|
Davenport became the first team to punch its ticket to the DI-AA Sweet 16 Saturday with a 60-12 defeat of Bowling Green in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Panthers have one game left in Mideast play, against Michigan State Saturday, but they’re uncatchable in the league standings.
Even if Davenport loses to MSU and Bowling Green wins and scores a bonus point against Miami, DU would win the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Bowling Green managed to keep Davenport off the scoreboard for the first eight minutes of the game, but then the Falcons conceded the equivalent of a point every 80 seconds.
Bowling Green was able to string multiple possessions together that landed them well inside DU territory, but a knock or a turnover in a lackluster ruck would end the attack. Bowling Green did manage one first-half score after a series of effective crash balls created an overlap on the wing.
Davenport turned seemingly every Bowling Green misstep into points. Every time a BG ball hit the deck, a Davenport player flyhacked it down the field or scooped it up.
“One thing (Phil Eloff), our backline coach, works on a lot, we want to force these guys to make mistakes with our defensive structures, and then when they make a mistake we want to capitalize on it,” said Davenport coach Kruger Van Biljon.
“If you’ve got the athletes to do that and they can capitalize on it pretty quick and you can spin it wide and get seven points out of it, then you’ve done a pretty good job in the pressure system.”
One guy who wound up on the receiving end of many of those spun balls off of BG mistakes was inside center Erin Hillary, who dotted down four tries on the day.
“Erin’s not a flashy player. He’s just a solid inside center that makes his tackles and makes his runs, but he’s starting to play really good with (flyhalf) JP,” said Van Biljon.
“He knows what JP’s running lines are going to be, and that’s normally what happens – JP goes a certain direction and Erin knows what JP’s going to do and he just runs off him.”
The defending national champs have now beaten two top-10 teams in two weeks by an average margin of 41 points. They’ve also gone 2-0 against CPD teams this fall, months after winning the DI national championship final, semifinal, quarterfinal and round of 16 game by 19, 41, 39 and 27 points, respectively.
Is DI-A in the Panthers' future?
“They’re going to have to restructure some of the brackets for schools I won’t be surprised if there are more schools who are going to drop out because of certain brackets,” said Van Biljon.
“We can’t take busses for three days to go down and play a rugby game. It doesn’t make sense, and to fly down for three games or four games, we don’t have that kind of money. We don’t have the alumni that can back us. We don’t have alumni for rugby. We work in a certain budget, and we have to make that work.”
While entering DI-A isn’t a certainty for Davenport, Van Biljon would like to set some high profile friendlies in concrete.
I would love to play other teams. I want to see if maybe in the spring we can match up with Lindenwood somehow. I think that’s a program that’s up and coming and obviously they may put their hands up next year as well. That’s another program that’s doing real well in their league, and we can match up with them, and they’re not too far from us.