The Midwest-East (now Mideast) champion no longer has to play the Midwest-West (Midwest) champion to advance in the national playoffs, since the Mideast and Midwest are technically stand alone leagues. But, Sunday, they met in the national quarterfinals to see who would move onto the semifinals May 18 in Sandy, Utah.
As they had the past several seasons, the east prevailed, with Davenport beating Wisconsin 34-11 in Cottage Grove, Wisc.
The first half was low-scoring, with Davenport controlling the majority of possession but Wisconsin’s defense playing well.
“Wisconsin came at us, and the first 40 minutes defensively, they shut us down everywhere,” said Davenport coach Kruger Van Biljon. “We had most of the ball, but we just couldn’t break the line. I wasn’t surprised how good they were. I was surprised how good their defensive structures were.”
Davenport’s JP Eloff and Wisconsin’s Jordan Heginbottom traded penalties in the opening minutes, and the Panthers and Badgers were deadlocked until the 35th minute, when Davenport DI-AA All American flanker Ryan Hargraves crashed over the line for the game’s first try to put the Panthers up 8-3. Heginbottom slotted another penalty just before the break make it 8-6 in favor of Davenport.
In the second half, Davenport’s offense got into a rhythm as good running lines off of Eloff opened up the game for him. The consensus All American ran in two second-half tries, and Hargraves and big lock Demecus Beach added one more a piece, to push the Panthers up 34-6.
Wisconsin’s Andrew Hanske touched down an unconverted try in the 73rd minute to round out the scoring.
Davenport has retained virtually its entire roster from last year’s championship squad. They’re one more year entrenched in the system and one more year experienced playing with each other. But are they better?
“I think we’re, structure wise, better, more experience. I think last year we were the unknown so people didn’t know what to expect. Everybody knows what to expect now. They know what style we play, so they can prepare for that,” said Van Biljon.
“Last year nobody knew what we did, how we did it, so I think we are better in structures, we are better in skills, we play better together, but that x-factor is gone that a team doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Awaiting Davenport in Utah will be Dartmouth. With former All Americans coach and current 7s Eagles coach Alex Magleby at the helm, the Big Green certainly won’t be unprepared to face the Panthers. Davenport’s best player, JP Eloff, has played under Magleby as a 15s All American, 7s All American and 7s Eagle prospect.
“The guy’s got his structure in order, and I think Magleby’s got the talent to take any 15 guys and turn them into a good rugby team, but the thing with Dartmouth is he’s got 15, 23 rugby players. We’re going to have to throw everything at Dartmouth to be able to win that game,” said Van Biljon.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that’ll be our match where we won’t make it. We just have to take one game at a time, but I know Dartmouth are structured very well, their defense is very good, they’ve got good attacking lines. We just have to make sure that our communication is up and we don’t wait for them or are afraid of them.”