FURMAN, S.C. – The University of Minnesota-Duluth Men’s Rugby club experienced the bitter taste of losing a National Championship last spring when it lost to Salisbury University. The bitterness no longer lingers after UM-Duluth’s convincing 31-7 triumph over Salisbury at the 2013 Men’s College Division II National Championship.
The stage was set for a National Championship rematch after Saturday’s semifinal slate saw UM-Duluth hammer the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater 39-5 and Salisbury stave off James Madison University 39-36.
Playing on the John S. Roberts Field on the campus of Furman University in Greensville, S.C., UM-Duluth was forced to play a man down shortly after the opening kick when freshman flyhalf Trace Bolstad was sent to the sin bin. Following the yellow card, a precisely chipped boot was deemed touched-down by Salisbury by referee Jim Rogers, putting the Sharks up 7-0.
The quick strike by Salisbury was followed by several minutes of slowly-played, back-in-forth phases from each team that led all to believe the DII Final would be a methodical nail-biter to the finish.
The momentum did not swing UM-Duluth’s way until a forward pass halted a Salisbury counter-attack, and the Duluth pack began to apply pressure on the Shark’s defense. The push from Duluth’s forwards would be a reoccurring theme and led to a Derrek Van Klein converted try to knot the game at 7-7.
Already having difficulty answering UM-Duluth’s powerful scrums, Salisbury was dealt a blow when hooker David Burnett received a yellow card. UM-Duluth would easily push a scrum beyond the in-line from five meters out for an unconverted try and a 12-5 advantage. UM-Duluth Head Coach Jeramy Katchuba prefers the forceful, downhill approach to rugby, but also notes that he has the horses that allow him to implement this tactic.
“It’s a brand of rugby that I coach,” said Katchuba. “And our skill set matches that style. We have a very big, aggressive pack. So, it makes it easier to coach that style when you have a team that can back it up.”
After securing a lineout deep in Salisbury territory, Leland McMillen was able to turn the corner and dot the ball down for another unconverted UM-Duluth try that sent the Fighting Penguins to the break leading 17-7.
Salisbury looked determined to reassert themselves in the second half, but a yellow card handed out to flanker Scott Wheeler diminished the Shark’s chances of a comeback. Wheeler, who made several devastating tackles in the first half, was desperately missed for ten minutes.
Playing a man-up, UM-Duluth looked like they were going to push a second scrum in for a try when Salisbury had no choice but to pull down the scrum. The referee awarded UM-Duluth with a penalty try, and this time Bolstad converted after the ball was placed right in front of the posts.
Austin Haecherl would punch in one more try for the Fighting Penguins, and Bolstad’s foot brought the final score to 31-7 and a National Championship to UM-Duluth.
UW-Whitewater rebounded to defeat James Madison 31-17 in Sunday’s consolation match. However, the weekend belonged to UM-Duluth for its redeeming victory over a Salisbury team that prevented the Fighting Penguins from winning a National Championship last season.
“It was a real honor to coach all of my players and an honor to play in the Championship match against Salisbury,” said Katchuba. “Salisbury is a great team and it was a very tough match. My hat is off to them.”