After losing the 2012 DII national title in something of a blowout to Lindenwood, Salisbury coach Dr. Robert Davis was unapologetic, saying how hard his team had battled against a varsity team that had brought in several very experienced players from overseas.
This year, Lindenwood moved up to DI-AA, where they finished 2nd, and Salisbury returned to the national DII final. There they met University of Minnesota-Duluth, a huge, physical team that has crushed all before them – their average playoff score was 50-12.
But somehow, Salisbury came out on top, beating Duluth 32-17 Sunday in the national DII final at Bowling Green University, and showed once again that they don't back down.
“We watched their semifinal game,” said Salisbury coach Bill Creese. “I stayed up all night and watched it something like ten more times. We saw what they did and how we could counter it.”
Duluth’s approach was simple, but deadly. They pounded the fringes, going off the same side and daring defenses to stop them. When the defense finally flooded that area, the ball was spun quickly the other direction. For Creese, then, the remedy was simple.
“We couldn’t wait for them,” he said. “Every other team waited for them to get going. And they had some powerful runners. So we resolved to hit them as early as possible.”
This approach worked wonderfully.
“They really came at us and did a great job on defense,” said UM-Duluth coach Jeramy Katchuba. It wasn’t something they were used to.
Salisbury scored first and led 7-0, but after a long period of Duluth possession, flyhalf Nick Kuhl was yellow carded for a repeat ruck infringement. Duluth worked their way down field, and with one Salisbury prop nursing a bump to the eye, scored.
“What was big about that,” said Creese, “was that it took them so long to score. We gave up a try, sure, but we did it down, basically, two guys. The guys got some confidence from that.”
And they came right back. A penalty off the restart led to a try for Salisbury right before halftime, and then after the break Salisbury scored again to lead 17-5. Both coaches said that period was crucial.
“Anytime you can score right before halftime is big,” said Creese.
“We started making mistakes,” added Katchuba. “And Salisbury are a good team – they capitalized on those mistakes and put us in a bad position.”
Salisbury scored again to lead 22-5, and by then had the measure of Duluth.
“The Duluth guys had a lot of possession, but we wouldn’t let them get anywhere,” said Matchuba. “They guys just played great team defense.”
Leading the way was No. 8 Jake Fields, who won MVP honors and scored a try, but mostly got the accolades for his tenacious defense. Prop Scott Wheeler was also instrumental in the team’s defensive effort, as was flanker Leland Thomas.
For Duluth, the ride home will be a subdued one. They played superbly on a simple but enormously effective game plan. With a team heavy with players experienced in Minnesota’s strong HS rugby scene, they showed they can play. Freshman Sam Torvinen scored two tries for them Sunday.
And, Kathuba noted, “we only graduate one starter. The future’s very bright here.”
Tries: Brooks, Fields, Snyder 2, Rohrdon, Burnett
Tries: Torvinen 2, Christensen