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A Classic as Queens Defeats Davenport in OT to Win NIRA DII

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A Classic as Queens Defeats Davenport in OT to Win NIRA DII

Lea Preuss takes off for Queens. Rory Goff photo.

In a final worthy of the name that had pretty much everything, Queens University Charlotte beat Davenport University in overtime to take the NIRA Women's DII championship Saturday.

The game, shown live on ESPN+, was held at Burnham Field at Dartmouth College in chilly but fair conditions.

Both teams were new to this final. Queens had lost in a bit of an upset in the DII semifinal last year, seeing the team that beat them, AIC, go on to take the title. Davenport was in CRAA D1 in 2021-22, and lost the fall final to Navy in a close game a year ago.

This was had everything, with intensity at the top of the list. Davenport came in with a depleted overall roster, with only three players on the bench. That would prove crucial. Queens pressured early with the backline due of Lea Preuss and Maddie Hughes working the moves and probing for gaps. They looked to unleash long-striding wing Jay Stone and in the 6th minute Stone was indeed able to burst into the corner for a 5-0 lead.

The lead would change hands five more times.

Both teams looked to win the territorial game, but when they put it through the hands the hits came hard and fast. As usual Davenport flanker Ashleigh DeWitt was ferocious with the tackles, and the likes of Jada Medellin and Shelby Tippin were no less intense for Queens.

About 15 minutes into the game Davenport were dealt a blow when their outstanding center Abigail Kowalczk was injured. She was taken off and BreeAnne Bassett came on. Bassett is a forward, however, so the entire team underwent a shuffle, with Basett slotting in at flanker, flanker Valencia Goldsmith going out to the wing, and wing Ellis McKay taking Kowalszk's spot at center.

It seemed a problem, but only a few minutes later that revamped backline got the ball to Goldsmith in space and she broke several tackles in brilliant fashion to score a try.

Scrumhalf Ashley Cowdrey added a penalty a few minutes later and Davenport led 8-5. From the restart after that penalty, Queens kicked deep and the ball rolled to right before the tryline. Touched down by Davenport it was ruled to have been taken back into in-goal, and so it was a scrum-five for Queens. They attacked from there, running a phase before flyhalf Pruess fended off some attention and was over.

Hughes converted for a 12-8 Queen lead.

Back came Davenport and as halftime loomed scrumhalf Ashley Cowdrey spotted space on the weak side of a maul on the Queens 22 and zipped down the tramlines to go over. Davenport was ahead 13-12. But with hooker Aniso Tuia now off for an injury, Davenport had used two-thirds of their bench before the break. Trouble was brewing.

Wait for the Drama

The second half saw Davenport add to that slim advantage. First the Panthers went wide to wing Jasmine Hernandez-Peralta, who beat several defenders before getting to the corner only to be driven into touch in-goal by English and Shelby Tippin. It was a brilliant and desperate defensive play by the two Queens players, but they weren't out of trouble yet. The goalline dropout allowed Davenoport to come back and a bulling run from flyhalf Addy Ochoa put the Panthers close before a couple of penalties saw DeWitt and Ochoa almost score. Finally Cowdrey found fullback Aubrey Crist and she score. Cowdrey converted and it was 20-12 for Davenport.

Touting themselves as a second-half team, Queens decided to prove it. Hughes slotted a penalty to get her side within five, and then they three absolutely everything at the Panthers.

Davenport held, booting the ball down the field and making massive tackles that jarred the ball loose. Queens kept at it, with Kemora making huge gains and hooker Mikaela Hall, coming on as an impact sub, also excellent with ball in hand.

Davenport, meanwhile, did get into scoring position late in the game and got a penalty that was perhaps at the limit of Cowdrey's range. They opted for the lineout, not the kick at goal which, had it been successful, could have iced the game. They didn't score.

But the Panthers held on and held on. With time almost up Queens attacked, mauling the ball for about 15 meters before coming oh-so-close in the opposite corner. But ... penalty against Davenport. Queens tapped, ran, and were over the line and under the posts. Ball held up. Goalline dropout. Queens gathered the ball and ran it through the forwards on the right side before send it wide left, where Pruess found wing Kamia Kruse, who curved around the edge and was in.

That made it 20-20, and yes, we were going to overtime.

Into OT

Before the overtime session (two ten-minute halves), referee Camille Juzwik gave each team a bit of a talking-to about penalties—Queens was repeatedly penalize for offside while Davenport's tackles were starting to slide high. The game, she insisted, would be decided by tries. So it was.

Overtime

Davenport was tired, there was no doubt, and Queens used that to their advantage, running loop moves in the backs to make them run. Such a move unleashed Preuss around the outside and she cruised in to score. Crist, hoping to stop her from curling around, tackled her in-goal, but did it high. Penalty try and a yellow card to the fullback.

Time to twist the knife. From the restart Hall charged through traffic and then offloaded to Salome Schmitt and the forwards nearby were no match for her pace. With no fullback for Davenport, Schmitt was clean through and Davenport led 34-20.

The game was over, right? Down a player and exhausted and two scores adrift Davenport had no chance. And yes they responded. The Davenport lineout had been singing almost all day. Goldsmith, now a wing, was still the go-to jumper and she would fling her arms up, which prompted Queens again and again to jump early. As a result the Davenport lineout was a solid and consistent source of possession, and so it was at the end of the first half of overtime. Goldsmith won the lineout and the backs ran Mariah Pruitt in hard. A good recycle and a run from Olivia Farkas and the Panthers were close. Cowdrey then picked up and shouldered away a tackler to score.

The scrumhalf then hit the very tough conversion to make it a one-score game 34-27.

The final ten minutes produce no more scoring, however, Davenport certainly had their chances but a brilliant poach from Hughes put paid to that. Finally the game ended and Queens were champions.

For Davenport, it was a brave and devoted performance for 100 minutes, with most of those players playing every second. Cowdrey was sensational, running the attack, scoring two tries, and logging 17 points. Would she have made that penalty goal late in the second half? You never know.

Farkas was a powerhouse at prop, Goldsmith seemed to be good wherever she played, and Mariah Pruitt put everything she had into the effort.

For Queens, the Peuess-Hughes combination was crucial for them, and when Pruess was off for a yellow card late in the second half, the Queens attack stalled.

Maggie Sweeney worked tirelessly in the forwards while Hall was a revelation as an impact sub. The MVP trophy went to Kemora for her work in tight and he ground-gaining carries, which she unleashed throughout the game.

But it was the game, more than anything, that was the winner.

Queens 34 
Tries: Stone, Preuss, Kruse, Penalty Try, Schmitt
Convs: Hughes, Penalty Try
Pens: Hughes

Davenport 27
Tries: Cowdrey 2, Goldsmith, Crist
Convs: Cowdrey 2
Pens: Cowdrey