No. 1 met No. 2 Sunday in the national quarterfinals in Cottage Grove, Wisc., with top-ranked Lindenwood downing second-ranked and reigning National Champion UW-Whitewater 27-15.
“In our opinion, that was the National Championship,” said UW-Whitewater coach Pat O’Connor. “I think the two best teams in the country played today, and it was a great game.”
The Warhawks scored first in the third minute when DII All American Chuck Koehler dotted down from close range. The defending champs held Lindenwood off the board for another 20 minutes, until fullback Morgan Findlay grounded a grubbered ball in the try zone for the Lions’ first score.
10 minutes later UW-Whitewater won a defending five-meter scrum and tried to clear its lines, but Lindenwood flyhalf Brendan Davis got his hands on the kick, and Findlay scored his second try. This time Davis converted, putting Lindenwood up 12-5 going into halftime.
Davis opened scoring in the second half with his first of two tries, pushing the Lions up 17-5, and Whitewater’s Luke Haen then scored in the 60th minute to pull the Warhawks back into contention. The conversion missed, but Whitewater trailed by just seven.
Findlay scored his third try 10 minutes later to re-extend Lindenwood’s lead to 22-10, and Whitewater rebutted with five more points in the 76th minute to pull within a converted try again. However, Davis dotted down the death knell with just two minutes to play, dummying his way in for the win-sealing try.
“They’re defending their championship, and they’re pretty much in their backyard, and they were dead set on not losing that game,” said Lindenwood coach Ron Laszewski of Whitewater, “and they played very inspired rugby, and it was quite a challenge for us. We just kind of stuck to our guns and got the job done, and onto the next.”
Lindenwood, the varsity program in its first year of competition, has not yet lost an intercollegiate match. The Lions are barreling towards an undefeated championship season, and Laszewski says his players haven’t been handed anything, despite having the varsity advantage, and that he‘s not surprised by his team‘s successful debut.
“They work their tails off, they’re lifting weights at 6am three days a week. No, I’m surprised by the results, because the effort is there,” he said.
“You get out of rugby what you put into it and these guys are getting out of it what they’re putting into it, and that’s the gratifying part. That’s the rewarding part.”