Rugby falls to Davenport in national semifinals, 35-18
By Blaze Joel, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, May 21, 2012
The Dartmouth men’s rugby team traveled to Sandy, Utah over the weekend to participate in the semifinals of the Emirates Airline Collegiate Division I-AA National Championship in the team’s first Final Four appearance since 1988, but the Big Green was unable to advance to Saturday’s national championship game after losing to eventual champion Davenport University, 35-18, in Friday’s semifinal game.
The Big Green received a tough draw, facing a Davenport team that had lost just three times all season, only one of which came in a non-exhibition match. The Panthers, who won the title in 2011 as well, and the Big Green were ranked first and second, respectively, in Rugbymag.com’s divisional rankings, making the teams’ semifinal matchup a de facto battle for the title.
“Those brackets are set far in advance, so we knew that if we kept winning that we would play them,” co-captain Derek Fish ’12 said. “We prepared as if we were going to have a championship-caliber match in that round.”
The other semifinal featured San Diego State University and the University of Tennessee, with the Aztecs prevailing, 25-12. Davenport won the title with a dominating 39-0 shutout of San Diego State.
“Davenport went on to have a great game in the finals, and they were definitely the best team,” co-captain Paul Jarvis ’12 said. “They put a lot of pressure on us and forced us into some mistakes that we normally don’t make.”
The Big Green came out firing and ready to play but unfortunately could not keep up the momentum it built in the first 20 minutes of the game. In a back-and-forth first half, the Big Green struck first just over eight minutes into the game with a successful try to go up 5-0. Davenport tied the score three minutes later, but Dartmouth converted a penalty off the foot of Madison Hughes ’15 at about the 20-minute mark of the first half. Just 1:20 later, Dartmouth increased its lead to 10 with a try and conversion. Fish and Kevin Clark ’14 scored the tries for the Big Green, while Hughes added the conversion on the second try.
The game began to go south for the Big Green, however, as Dartmouth saw its lead evaporate after two Davenport penalty conversions. Despite the run of six unanswered points by the Panthers to close out the half, the Big Green held the halftime lead at 15-11.
The Panthers continued to dominate the game in the second half, drawing on their experience to engineer a decisive comeback victory. Just over three minutes into the second half, the Panthers scored a try and converted it to take their first lead of the game at 18-15. Under three minutes later, Davenport crossed the goal line again, scoring another try to take an eight-point lead. The scoreboard remained unchanged for over 16 minutes of action, as both teams were bogged down by stingy defenses that prevented any significant chances at the goal.
With about 17 minutes left in the game, Hughes converted a penalty to cut the lead to five. The Panthers responded soon after, however, scoring two more tries to put the game out of reach for the Big Green. The Panthers ended the game with a try with just under two minutes left to make the final score 35-18.
“Earlier in the game, we did a much better job seizing on the opportunities and the turnovers,” Jarvis said. “In the second half, it was Davenport who was able to capitalize on the mistakes more efficiently. We kept getting bogged down after small advances. In the second half, we played too much rugby near our own goal line.”
The season is not over for the Big Green, however, as the team was selected to compete in the 2012 USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia, a tournament that the Big Green won last year after defeating the United States Military Academy in the final. Dartmouth enters as the top seed in Pool B in the round-robin setup. The Big Green will face the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland and the University of Florida in its pool.
If Dartmouth emerges as one of the top two teams in its pool, the Big Green will advance to the single-elimination bracket for a chance to defend its title. The tournament lasts just two days, with all three round-robin games to be played on June 2 and all knockout phase games to be played on June 3. The Big Green is the only Ivy League team to make the tournament.
“I think our chances to defend are very good,” Jarvis said. “We are returning six players from last year and have added a lot of good new guys. Our coach is the best 7s coach in the country. I think the experience of winning last year and getting to the finals plus the coaching gives us a very good chance.”