DIAA Playoffs - East Bracket
DIAA Playoffs - East Bracket
Call it the bracket where no one knows each other.
The eastern side of the DIAA spring playoffs brings four disparate teams together at the Upward Star Center in Spartanburg, SC.
You've got Florida State, which emerged late in the day in the SIRC and then defeated Kennesaw State and Central Florida to take the conference title. You've got North Texas, which played an almost non-existent conference schedule in the fall, and battled to find games and get back to the national level. There's Brown University, which finished 2nd in the Ivy League, and then blew through the play-in games. And there's Missouri, which kept winning in the Heart of America ... when teams wanted to play them.
Florida State is dedicated and athletic. They are a classic good college club team in that they don't have athletic stars, but play as a unit and enjoy playing together. It's that unity that saw them emerge SIRC champs, playing team defense. They work the ball well, and have the work rate to play an up-tempo, multi-phase game. It doesn't hurt, of course, that they have pace in the likes of Cameron Chadsey, and power in the guise of lock forward Scott Petersen.
North Texas, meanwhile, played a two-game conference season (if you can call it that) with Texas State in the fall. They split the games, and UNT felt they hadn't really played all that much, and would want to be considered for an at-large place. That didn't work out in the fall (USA Rugby found out about UNT's intentions too late, and they had eight teams already), so UNT comes in as a spring team. They still haven't found that much game time. They played a very competitive loss to DIA team Arkansas, and then hammered a Baylor XV that was mostly their 2nd side.
They also played in the Heart of America 7s, where they showed well.
"It's been a disjointed season," said UNT Head Coach Michael Engelbrecht. "Having a two-game conference season wasn't ideal. We've been flipping between 15s and 7s. But somehow I think it's working. We've got a bunch of guys who are good athletes but lack the skill-experience. So playing 7s has helped them just understand rugby a bit more."
No. 8 Daniel Logan has developed into a ferocious tackler and an imposing runner. Scrumhalf Daryl Bailey is a scampery sort of #9 and has all the makings of being a real pest.
As for Missouri, they, too, have been short of games. Too many forfeits in the Heart of America left Mizzou with some open weekends. Head Coach Don Corwin said it's a double-edged sword ... playing a lot of games can get you game time, but also risks injuries. Playing not much means you're likely healthy (and Missouri is that) but maybe a little under-cooked.
"At least we don't have injuries!" said Corwin. "Right now we look good but you always look good unopposed. But we've been going at it pretty hard in practice and maybe not knowing much about our opposition is a good thing. We're focusing on what we can do."
Missouri plays defense and works very hard at that side of the game. They take a lot of pride in it, but also know that your best defense is often just about keeping the ball.
"Ball retention and playing good team defense, and we'll let the rest of the offense take care of itself," he said.
It's a little bit of the same story from Brown. Having finished 5-2 in the Ivy League and then won fairly convincingly over Yale and in a close one over Princeton to get to this point, Brown succeeds thanks to good team play. Certainly there have been a few stars emerge - Peter McHugh's five tries in the last two games is one - but Head Coach David LaFlamme says it comes down to playing as a unit.
"Yale was a test for us as it was 5-5 at halftime," said LaFlamme. "We settled down in the second half but it was a real dog fight and we got beat up a little bit."
Brown then went to Barbados for a Spring Break trip and a couple of games, but LaFlamme rested some starters on that trip due to injuries. They returned to beat Princeton in a 19-12 win.
"Princeton were excellent in the contact area defensively and they took away a lot of our ball," said LaFlamme. "I'd say we were slightly better in the scrums and lineouts and strung a few sequences together to get the win. I suspect Missouri will be a physical side. If we can weather the storm and some of my key guys step up we should be able to make a good game of it."
Brown is good on catch-pass skills, and plays their system. They've had ample opportunities to test that system, and know they can make a statement if they keep it all together.