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NCR D1 Playoffs Down to Final Four

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NCR D1 Playoffs Down to Final Four

NDC cruised to the semis. Jack Nice photo.

NCR's D1 playoffs have four teams left as Notre Dame College, Indiana, St. Bonaventure, and Brown all advanced from the quarterfinals over the weekend.

There were no real upsets, although there very nearly was one. GRR, by the way, was moderately accurate in our picks. We gave the unequivocal nod to NDC and Brown, but we sounded a lot more sure of Indiana than we should have been, and were somewhat doubtful of St. Bonaventure's ability to beat Wheeling. 

NDC Tightens Grip on #1 Rank

Notre Dame College came into the playoff weekend ranked #1 by GRR and they showed why, pushing aside Siena 50-0. A constant truth in rugby is that if you're winning big, you might well be getting away with little errors. Siena's competition in the Liberty, while not bad, is not to the level of the Rugby East, where NDC plays. Siena won fairly comfortably (for the most part) over Syracuse, AIC, Fairfield, Nazareth, Fordham, and Iona. NDC lost to Navy, tied Army, and beat Penn State, Kutztown, Southern Virginia, and St. Bonaventure.

NDC's power in set piece was palpable and in fact Siena ended up having to go to uncontested scrums in the second half. That kind of took the energy out of the game, but also mitigated the score somewhat as the Falcons had started winning every scrum regardless of who had the put-in. NDC won 50-0.

The uncontested scrums, said NDC Head Coach Hugh Johnston, "made the game super scrappy ... the last 15 minutes are a very tough watch."

Sienca had to suffer a yellow card for going uncontested, and Johnston pulled off one of his players, too, just to keep him fresh.

"Other than that, you can't be unhappy with a 50-0 performance, but as I told the boys after the game, we still left a lot of points on the board," said Johnston. NDC was held up three times and tackled into touch within five meters two more times.

"We've got to make sure we're super-clinical in the semifinal," added Johnston. "Our pack was dominant as usual, so they've got to keep that going against Indiana. I was super impressed with the defense, though.Numerous times Siena played over 15 phases within 10 meters of our line and the boys were patient on D and didn't leak any points. And the physicality in the contact area was great as well. Discipline is still our work-on, Siena would have walked triple the distance they made with ball in hand all game by penalties alone. Still, credit to Siena - they didn't make it easy. It was a slow grind to get to 50 points, and we spent a lot of time in their half, so they did defend well despite what the scoreline reflects."

Indiana Comeback

In a really weird game, Indiana ran out to a lead of 18-5, scoring off a wide kick that was somewhat misplayed bu Principia, and exerting their power in tight. But the game turned around completely after that, with Principia scoring three converted tries to take a 26-18 lead late in the game. Indiana was getting in penalty trouble and doing all the things that undercut their success, while Principia's speed and opportunism was causing IU problems, with their forwards finishing it off.

"We were playing not to lose—very tight," said IU Head Coach Luke Gross. 

Late in the game, IU opted for a kick at goal to get within a try, but missed. Still, they kept the pressure up and yet another perfect wiper kick from flyhalf Jack Ries bounced nicely once again and they had their try. Now it was 26-25 and time frittering away. Principia came very close to scoring in response. After getting close to the line ther lost the ball in the ruck, only to steal it back a couple of phases later and threaten the Indiana line. But the final pick-and-go didn't make the line—center Peyton Wall made the tackle and scrumhalf Keenan Makowski forced a holding-on penalty and Indiana got out of it.

After a long delay for an injury, about 17 minutes, the game resumed with just a few minutes left Indiana was stuck in their 22 and knew they couldn't afford to kick the ball away. Indiana found that going into contact and setting rucks was just pushing them back. So while they still went through a lot of phases they started to make offloads to keep the movement alive. They almost screwed it up, but a key athletic playfrom wing Matt Chevalier to keep a high pass away from touch kept the action going. Still, after 17 phases Indiana was still stuck in their own half. But a hands in the ruck penalty against Principia changed that. Some of the Principia opted to argue their position, but Indiana tapped quickly and made it to halfway.

There Principia was guilty of a high tackle but Indiana didn't worry about that and swarmed in to win the ruck; Wall picked up and sped on to the line and Principia was just behind the play. He was caught just before the line but flanker Wyatt Schrader picked it up to score near the posts. With the conversion Indiana had won 32-26. It was a wild moment and a testament to a team dedicated to not giving up on the play.

Bonnies, Brown Work For It

St. Bonaventure beat Wheeling 26-13, corralling a very speedy Cardinals attack and getting a strong game from wing Noah Edwards and continued hard work from lock Taman Singh. And Brown beat Kutztown 31-12. Brown scored early off a brilliantly-executed maul, but it remained 5-0 for quite a while. Kutztown equalized at about 14 minutes. Midway through the first half Brown got their maul going again and there was no stopping them. A charging run from Junior Gafa then made it 17-5, which is how the half ended.

In the first minute of the second half Henry Thomas fielded a Brown clearance kick and sliced right through to score his second try for Kutztown and it was a one-score game at 17-12. Brown settled it down after that, however. They worked their way down to the Kutztown line and eventually a strong line from Gafa put him over.

Up 24-12 the Bears were in solid position. At 65 minutes both teams got bad news. Gafa was taking the ball up into the line and was hit high. The referee and his team didn't have the luxury of replay, but replays show it to be a pretty dangerous hit. It snapped Gafa's head back and, reportedly, broke his nose. (He might have had a concussion too; we can't diagnose that, but he did leave the field.) Reserve front-rower Frank Carey received a red card for the hit. 

Brown didn't run away with it after that—having the guy who scored two of your tries on the sideline might have something to do with that—but they did maul one more over to seal it. It was a good win in difficult circumstances for Brown, but they will likely be without one of their best players for the semifinal against Bonnies in two weeks. Brown 31 Kutztown 12.

"From our video analysis, we knew they were a well structured team with some big attacking weapons," said Brown Head Coach David Laflamme. "They did well to fend off our scrum attack, but as the game wore on, we got the edge on them.  Our lineout maul was an issue for Kutztown to contend with and having the punching power of Junior Gafa in the centers, they had to respect that area as well. The thing I was most proud of was the patience that we used, particularly in the second half of the game. There were phases of play that were well strung together and went on for minutes of play.  We just hung on to the football and continually worked the opposition. Defending is tiring."