Duluth Does Just Enough
Duluth Does Just Enough
GRR #1 Minnesota-Duluth will take on GRR #2 Wisconsin-Whitewater in the finals of the men’s DII college championships Sunday after both won semifinals on Saturday at Furman University.
Whitewater defeated Towson 53-22 in a game that was much more competitive than the score might suggest, but also a game where Whitewater’s finishing was far superior than Towsons.
Duluth weathered a tough first half against Salisbury to clamp down defensively in the second period and win 30-18.Duluth defeated Salisbury in a game that wasn’t always pretty, but did the job for the defending champions.
Led by the elusive running of No. 8 Luc Desroches and the explosiveness of flyhalf Trace Bolstad and center Logan Hanson, Duluth did enough against a Salisbury team that just didn’t want to go away.
Duluth worked their way methodically down the field in the opening minutes before hooker Sam Freeman powered over from short range.
Salisbury replied almost instantly, with fullback Nick Rodriguez and centers Patrick Mullens and James Gasper finding some half-gaps. After a period of pressure, Salisbury got a penalty in front of the posts and scrumhalf Blake Carroll put the kick over.
Both teams competed very hard at the breakdown and often drew a whistle from referee John Stevens, as neither side wanted to release the ballcarrier, or the ball, when they should. But the turnovers and penalties and thundering tackles made for a back-and-forth game where neither team could score.
Eventually Salisbury once again worked the phases and a couple of penalties into the Duluth end and Carroll put over another penalty for a 6-5 Salisbury lead.
Almost instantly, Duluth replied, with Logan Hanson picking off a pass and going in almost untouched for a try and a 12-6 lead. Salisbury battled back, and after a break a series of pick-and-goes inched them closer before prop Prince Etim Eyo went over.
It was 12-11 now, with halftime looming. Duluth had one more shot, and from the back of a lineout, No. 8 Desroches wriggled over to give Duluth some breathing room.
The second half was trouble for the Sharks as they struggled to get any points. Meanwhile, Duluth started to open up their attack, with Bolstad hugely active as first receiver and setting up wings Randall Tanaka, fullback Matthew Martin, and wing Clifford Petruska.
Tanaka and Martin combined to get Tanaka over for a 24-11 try, and after that, the Penguins started to put a stranglehold on proceedings. They used the backs to get into the Salisbury half, and then the forwards to power ahead until Salisbury committed a penalty. Bolstad attempted three penalties, and made two, as time frittered away.
Salisbury finally was able to score through the forwards - sub forward Alfred Beaty got the try - but it was way too late.
For Duluth, their tight five took control late, with locks Andrew Buntrock and Connor Gleason a force in the lineout and scrums and with the ball in hand. DesRoches was nicely active in taking bad ball and making it better, while Anthony Wilson was another go-forward forward.
Salisbury had enough balk and enough chances to get something going, but kept losing the ball on the wing or in contact.
“We felt we had ‘em,” said No. 8 Scotty Wheeler. “We made mistakes and physically we felt we had ‘em. We had that one [interception] and that hurt us. They were probably the most physically team we’ve played.”
“This was absolutely one of the toughest games we’ve payed,” said Buntrock. “Probably the best forward pack we’ve played all year. They’re a very physical, very heavy-hitting team.”
So Duluth faces UW-Whitewater son Sunday and will have to be a little more precise and careful with the ball.
Finishing off attacks was also an issue, but they’re in the final, their fourth in a row.