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Gutting It Out, IUP Pulls Out Second Straight CRC Championship

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Gutting It Out, IUP Pulls Out Second Straight CRC Championship

IUP in the rain at the 2023 CRC. Photos IUP Rugby.

Perhaps the least surprising win at the CRCs was IUP. 

Bringing back several players that ran through to the D2 championship in 2022, the Hawks were nicely-poised to do it again in 2023.

But there were questions, mostly about team unity. With players finishing their studies, dealing with injuries, and other reasons for not being available, IUP never had the same lineup twice.

Every tournament had a new mix of athletes, but Head Coach Seth Erwin made it work for him.

“Nobody got burned out,” said Erwin. “We developed a lot of depth. Last year we only went with nine players and this weekend we had the full 12. The one thing I’m thankful for is they’re a bunch of fit kids. They go to the gym together, they work hard.

“We used 26 different guys in seven tournaments and 22 scored during the season; it made choosing the team interesting.”

But they found their identity and found that they were a defense-first team.

“We knew we weren’t going to blow teams out, but we knew we could play defense,” said Erwin.

And depth. They needed that depth—with powerful forward Colton Moyer going down with an ankle injury before the final they needed to adjust, and adjust they did.

“Our depth is what got us through the weekend,” said Erwin.

Some weird things happened through the tournament. The weather was horrendous, of course, but there was also the knockout rounds. The top two teams, based on record and then points difference, were NC State and Norwich, and they received byes to the semis. IUP, the third-best pool winner joined Georgetown, Northern Iowa, and Memphis in the quarterfinals.

After beating UNI 22-12, the Hawks were told they were to play NC State and Norwich was to play Georgetown (17-15 winners over Memphis). 

But as the semis approached CRC organizers realized they had made an error in the brackets—IUP (#3 seed) should play #2 seed Norwich.

Having spent the down time studying film of NC State, the Hawks now had to go in cold against Norwich (and Norwich had the same issue).

With Leo Clayburgh running the show and Rashawn Fraser burning players on the outside, Norwich was very dangerous.

“Leo’s a stud and Rashawn probably had the most pace of anyone in the tournament,” said Erwin. “We talked at halftime about blitzing on Leo so he wouldn’t have any time. We wanted to make sure Rashawn didn’t get the ball as much because he’s so stinkin’ fast.”

Defensively they also worked hard to get hands on the ball and disrupt possession. The result was three unconverted tries for IUP and two converted for Norwich. The Cadets were attacking the tryline when a IUP hand got around the ball and forced a knock-on to end the game.

“Grit is the word that keeps coming to mind,” said Erwin. “We would grind it out. We may not play the flashiest rugby but we were solid defensively.”

By that time Moyer, who had been trying to gut it out with his injury, told Erwin he would be a liability. The depth had to come through again. Against NC State once again they gutted it out, and made sure the Wolfpack’s danger men didn’t have time and space.   

“With all those changes in our lineup we were used to it,” said Erwin. “We talk about controlling what you can control, and you can’t control the weather, the referee, or injuries. In the final we gave up a try in the first 30 seconds on a defensive error and before I could say anything Dom Holmes ran by me and said ‘don’t worry coach, it won’t happen again.’ They knew, and they took care of it. They knew how to hold themselves accountable.”