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Great Midwest Shows Parity, Blows Up Rankings

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Great Midwest Shows Parity, Blows Up Rankings

The Marquette is all smiles after the win.

The Great Midwest has a long history of producing teams that go deep into the playoffs, but that doesn't mean at can't produce some surprises.

The leading teams from the 2019, including the 2019 national finalists in UW-Whitewater, both lost in the opening week of league play Saturday. Whitewater, which in the past nine years has been in six national finals and won three, was upset 36-31 by Marquette. And while Marquette has been an up-and-comer the last few years, this is still a bit if a surprise.

The lead changed hands six times in this game, but after two tries from Benji Vanhandel Marquette led 29-19 and seemed to have a bit of a cushion. No such luck. Whitewater stormed back with two late tries and a 31-29 lead. But with time winding down Sam Poblocki raced in for the game-winner, sealing a 36-31 victory for Marquette.

This wasn't the only upset, as Northern Iowa doubled up Illinois State, who actually won the conference in 2019. It was a tight one into the second half with the teams changing ends with UNI up 8-5. But a Jared Elder try seven minutes into the second half gave Northern Iowa some space, and then Kaleb Boleyn's try made it 20-5. Illinois State was in trouble then but got a penalty try to close the gap. Jentry Staack, who was player of the game for UNI, then sidestepped his way through the middle and was off for a key try. Now up 27-12 UNI got a final score from Ian Hibbert set up by Gabe Santo, and that was pretty much it.

Northern Iowa 34, Illinois State 17.

"We had a few mistakes in the early first half ... and I think making those simple mistakes kind of slowed us down a little bit so I think fixing those things for the future are going to be what makes us better," said Staack. But overall, he added, "it was a great day."

Loyola won convincingly and unsurprisingly over Illinois-Chicago 65-5, while in the small-college bracket of the Great Midwest Michigan Tech beat UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stevens Point beat the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

One more perhaps minor surprise in what was really a pick-em game, Wisconsin-Platteville won convincingly over Northern Michigan 24-7.  Maybe it was the recruiting.


A post shared by UWP Rugby (@uwp_rugby)

What is clear is a) all the home teams won, b) the parity is solid in the conference, which is a tough thing to accomplish after the COVID shutdowns affected teams so differently, and c) the GRR rankings were blown up. While #10 Loyola did win, #4 Whitewater lost to #26, and #13 Illinois State lost to unranked Northern Iowa, and while Platteville beat an unranked Northern Michigan, NMU was ranked #39 in Week 2, and Platteville wasn't really on the radar.