Western Washington beat Long Beach 39-26 Sunday in Tucson, Ariz. to win the West Region and advance to the Final Four. Western beat Chico State 47-17 and Long Beach upset host Arizona 22-17 Saturday to advance to the regional final.
The Vikings led almost the entire contest Sunday. They led 22-7 at halftime lead and 39-12 at one point.
“Our tactical kicking was something they couldn’t handle. They mishandled a number of high balls,” said Western Washington coach Paul Horne. “Their back three was having a difficult time with the kicks, and possibly the sun as well, but that put a lot of pressure on them and forced a lot of turnovers and a lot of territory in our favor.”
Western struck first with an unconverted try off of a stolen lineout near the five-minute mark, and Long Beach came back with a penalty try following repeated infringements from the Vikings. Converted, Long Beach led 7-5.
After 20 minutes Western scrumhalf Matt Jensen ran in for his first try of the game and third of the weekend, giving the Vikings a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Flyhalf Quinten Wilms converted and added a penalty kick a few minutes later. Then Kevin Kinloch scored Western’s third try of the game, converted by Wilms, to stretch the lead to 22-7 at halftime.
Western went wide to score two more tries at the onset of the second half. Jake Romano ran in the first one and Damon Rickard the second one to make it 32-7.
Long Beach scored halfway through the second stanza, but the 27-point run by Western would prove too much to overcome.
Jansen then scampered in for his second try of the game, and Long Beach punched two more in before the final whistle.
Horne said Jansen out in an MVP performance on the weekend, scoring two tries in each game. The fifth-year senior has been a leader all season for the Vikings.
“Got a lovely pass left and right. Puts the ball on the money and was a state wrestler, so his defense is outstanding,” said Horne of Jansen. “Great tackler, and he’s just harassing people all the time defensively. More than anything his tactical awareness covering kicks and counter attacking makes him an absolutely complete player.”
Western was a middling team in the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference last season, but they’ve been a juggernaut this year, their first under Horne. His arrival has signaled the club’s transition from social to high performance.
“The commitment has been huge. They’ve made that culture change, they get out there and they’re playing with a lot of passion,” said Horne. “Our defensive structure is very good, and we’ve got a nice pattern of play that they follow, and that’s all held together by a good eight, nine and 10 combination.”
Western’s structure and organization will be tested by Lindenwood in the National semifinals. The Vikings square off against the Lions, reigning DII National Champs, May 11 in Bowling Green, Ohio.