The University of Minnesota-Duluth dominated all the way to the championship as they beat a tough Salisbury team 31-7 to take USA Rugby's new fall DII college championship.
Tested early by the defending champs, UMD used their superiority up front to pull away late.
Salisbury got a break early when Duluth flyhalf Trace Bolstad was yellow-carded. Up a man, Salisbury capitalized. Using flanker Scott Wheeler to punch the ball up, Salisbury then saw flyhalf Nick Kuhl chip through the Fighting Penguin defense and into in-goal, where he and Duluth center Logan Hanson dove on it. The referee gave the score, despite protests, and then slotted the difficult conversion to put the Sharks up 7-0.
Salisbury kept up the pressure, especially with Wheeler making crunching tackles, and it took a while for Duluth to get going with their flyhalf in the sin bin.
But get going they did. Pounding the ball through their forwards they powered over to make it 7-7. It was a physical battle the remainder of the first half, with both packs trying to assert themselves, and both defenses trying to send a message. The Duluth pack sent the biggest message, earning a scrum five meters from the Salisbury line and methodically driving that scrum over the line for No. 8 Jake Luetgers to touch down.
The forwards created the next try for Duluth, even if the wing scored the try, and the teams changed ends with the Minnesotans up 17-7.
The next two scores were tough for Salisbury to take. The first was a scrum drive-over that was stopped illegally by Salisbury, and led to a penalty try for Duluth. The second sealed the win for the Penquins. With Van Klein, Duluth's hard-charging prop, in the sin-bin, Salisbury pressured right to the Duluth tryline. But some superb blitz defense from Duluth forced a knock-on, and from the ensuing scrum, Duluth worked their way down the field and scored.
That last try made it 31-7, and Salisbury rued a potential 14-point turnaround.
Duluth hooker and captain Blake Martin was named MVP for his overall work rate and leadership, while Van Klein was also outstanding, especially with the ball in hand.
Salisbury can take solace in an excellent season, and their resiliency in the final after falling behind, regaining the lead, and holding off a determined James Madison comeback on Saturday - Salisbury won that game 39-36.
JMU flanker Tim Katz scored four tries in that game.
Also Sunday, UW-Whitewater defeated JMU for 3rd in a game where both teams emptied their benches.
Full championship game video below.