Davenport overcame a 15-11 halftime deficit to beat Dartmouth 35-18 and advance to the DI-AA national final.
Dartmouth struck first with a try in the 9th minute when freshman phenom fullback Madison Hughes was on the originating and finishing end of a give-and-go with wing Kevin Clark.
Davenport struck back shortly after when consensus All American flyhalf JP Eloff cut horizontally across the field and then effectively toward the goal line, dishing to Mason Baum on the wing, who passed back inside to outside center Adam Ries for the leveling try.
Davenport and Dartmouth then traded probing runs and trips into each other’s territory until the Big Green earned a penalty within Hughes’ range in the 20th minute. Hughes nailed the kick, putting Dartmouth up by three.
Just after the restart, Davenport wing Lance Cavanaugh opted to kick ahead, but the ball sliced sharply back into the middle of the field, where Dartmouth fielded it and swung the ball to a speeding Clark for their second try.
Up 15-5, Dartmouth looked as though it might be pulling away, but Davenport crept back with two Eloff penalty kicks to round out the half.
Davenport tried to keep up with Dartmouth’s blistering pace in the first half, and it wore on their decision-making process, evidenced by the poor kick from Cavanaugh.
“Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves because we have players on our team that can make a lot happen,” said Davenport captain Angus MacLellan, “and sometimes we try to do too much when we can just wait and do it in another phase.”
The Panthers talked about controlling the tempo at halftime, and they put that plan into practice immediately with a multiphase drive ending in a try from the hard-running Gabe Sochanek.
“We have excellent ball runners in the forwards, and we like to keep that ball retention by running the forward crash balls, so in the first half we were trying to get it wide, and we were doing well enough, but we were losing the ball at the same time,” said MacLellan.
“The second half we went down to a more structured game, set up more phases, hit more crash balls in the forwards and tried to retain the ball more.”
Sochanek’s score, plus Eloff’s conversion, put Davenport up 18-15, and lock Demecus Beach on the wing scored two minutes later, following a long counterattack from Baum, extending the lead to 23-15.
Hughes interrupted the skid in the 63rd minute with a penalty kick, but Eloff quickly re-extended the lead with a try after charging down an attempted clearance kick and dove on it in the try zone. After his hitting his own conversion, the Panthers led 29-15 with 15 minutes to play. Erin Hillary added one more try in the 79th minute to round out the scoring.
Davenport will try to retain its title Saturday against San Diego State.
Tries: Eloff, Beach, Sochanek, Hillary, Ries
Cons: Eloff (2)
Pens: Eloff (2)
Tries: Hughes, Clark
Pens: Hughes (2)