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There It Is: Iowa Central Wins Fall DIAA

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There It Is: Iowa Central Wins Fall DIAA

Iowa Central CC center Rhys Smith pointing. Photo: Iowa Central CC rugby

The Iowa Central Tritons started the 2019 fall season as a Division II team, and now they are DIAA fall champions.

The Tritons defeated Western Michigan 36-21 Sunday in Matthews, NC.

The story, of course, has been told, but it comes down to this: Iowa Central was invited to join a conference, and took some time deciding. The conference didn’t want to wait, and so Iowa Central was without a conference for the second year in a row. The Tritons had a schedule, made up of almost all DIA and DIAA teams, and so USA Rugby, through committee and appeals decisions, said they were a DIAA team.

The good news for Iowa Central was that they’d done enough to garner an at-large invitation to the DIAA playoffs, and then it was just a case of performing on the field.

As flyhalf/center Rhys Smith said: “Being moved up halfway through the season was tough. But we couldn’t do much about that … All we can do is let the coaches deal with those issues; our job is to get an education and play rugby.”

Inch-by-Inch, Iowa Central Chases Title

And Sunday, that’s what happened. Against a talented Western Michigan team, Iowa Central took control in the second half of the first period of the game, and held on 36-21.

After both teams circled each other like boxers in the early rounds, and after both landed a few jabs, Smith, playing center on Sunday, opened the scoring with a penalty, and moments later was there in support to finish off a try, which he converted.

Up 10-0, the Tritons kept up the attack, working the ball quickly out of the rucks and sending runners onto nicely-timed passes.

Western was making their tackles, but the ball was being recycled and spun too quickly for them to cover every channel.

Then a huge break by fullback Viance Vano set the stage for prop Elijah Hayes to pick up and go over.

Down 15-0 Western Michigan fought back. Unable to get much going offensively the Broncos made Iowa Central earn every meter of territory.

But eventually the Tritons broke through again. Lock Tuia Tupuola thundered through and the Tritons consolidated, and finally shoved it over in the corner thanks to flanker Alec Johnson, with a little help from Oliver Kwete.

Kwete Brothers Shine Through Rugby in New Home

Western Michigan had a prime chance to get some points at the end of the first half. A huge break from No. 8 Joey Backe started it. Then, after winning an attacking lineout, the Broncos sent the ball wide to fullback Willem Stanley. He fed wing Daniel Byrne who was off to the corner. But Vano raced over to tackle Byrne, and an Iowa Central knock-on (that some WMU players said looked deliberate) ended the half.

Western Responds

Iowa CCC started the second half on the front foot and Smith added a penalty goal to make it 23-0. But Western Michigan wasn’t done. They didn’t give up on defense, and with 25 minutes to go, center Kyle Williams stripped the ball and outflanked and out-powered five Triton players to race 50 meters for a key try. Sean Akins converted. Just a few minutes later, Williams was at it again, this time running in support of Byrne, who made a half-break and then fed inside to his teammate for the outside center’s second try.

Just like that we had a ballgame on our hands and with Akins converting again, it was 23-14.

Iowa Central answered with a penalty goal from Smith, and then they followed that up by again putting WMU under pressure.

WMU center Justin Collier made a big tackle right in front of the posts, but he was penalized, and then sin-binned, for killing the ball. An easy three points for Iowa Central, and the Broncos were now shorthanded.

Even shorthanded Western replied. After a couple of Iowa Central penalties, the Broncos appeared to maul it over, but on further review the referee said the ball was held up. Backe tried an eightman pick only to get a forearm to the nose for his trouble. Bleeding profusely, he left the field for a blood substitute. Meanwhile, Iowa Central’s Michael Karns got a yellow card—not for the forearm, but for not releasing the tackled player right on the tryline. WMU decided to tap and go, and prop Daniel Howard went over for the try.

That made it 29-21 with five minutes to go. But Iowa Central was not going to implode with the championship so close. They worked hard to run out the clock, and while Smith missed on two penalty goal attempts, every choice gave WMU less and less time. 

With time up, wing Gregor Gourlay went over and that sealed it.

This victory was vindication, in some ways, for USA Rugby's decision to move Iowa Central up to DIAA. Certainly it was an indication that the Tritons are going to be a force going forward. Smith was the game MVP, but don't forget Vano, who was superb both on attack and defense, and the second row pairing of Tupuola and Philip Woodhouse, as imposing a pair as you'll see in the game. But overall this was the difference between a varsity program that trains every day, and a team that is student-run, and a club team.

Western Michigan's dedication almost produced a comeback, and you know they will be back.

Iowa Central CC 36
Tries: Smith, Hayes, Johnson, Gourlay
Convs: Smith 2
Pens: Smith 4

Western Michigan 21
Tries: Williams 2, Howard
Convs: Akins 3