Torrid 2nd Half See Warhawks Fly to DII Final
Torrid 2nd Half See Warhawks Fly to DII Final
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater will play in the team’s third-straight national men’s DII college final after the Warhawks rode a torrid second half to defeat Norwich Saturday in the semis.
The teams were almost deadlocked - 24-22 - at halftime. But Whitewater’s backline exploded for six tries in the second half to win going away 58-29.
Norwich started off the stronger. Dominating possession, they worked an interior attack that heavily featured pro Keyon McCloud-Holman. The Freshman was a handful and forced Whitewater to defend the fringes of the ruck, something, they didn’t do particularly well for much of the first half.
Along with McCloud-Holman, Norwich got big yardage using No. 8 Eric Pierone, but the man who really made them go was scrumhalf Tom St. Pierre. He was the lynchpin of the pattern, and every now and then he’d fake a pass and go himself, an action that almost always seemed to pick up big chunks of territory.
Norwich worked their way down the field using their forwards, and forcing Whitewater to commit penalties. Then, down near the Whitewater line, they finally went wide, with flyhalf Keegan Frick sending it out to where wing Mark Hill was all too ready to run in for the opening try.
Additional pressure set up a Keegan Frisk penalty goal to Norwich led 8-0 before Whitewater had even really touched the ball.
But they finally did get the ball, and from a scrum possession ran a backline attack that put fullback Garrett Shibilski in at the corner. Whitewater added to that when they broke out of their own 22 and sent Jack Healy in from long range. Whitewater then led 10-8, and extended that lead when flanker Shay Haase ripped the ball out of a Norwich player’s hands and galloped 50 meters to the corner.
Up 17-8, Whitewater certainly had the momentum, but Norwich couldn’t capitulate. St. Pierre scored on a quick tap after a series of Whitewater penalties (which eventually earned a yellow card for prop Ken Ewert). With Frick’s conversion the score stood it 17-15. Once more Whitewater looked to break the game open, and a powerful, weaving run from center Robbie Sindic - who had a brilliant game - set up a chance for flanker Connor Bell and a 24-17 Whitewater lead.
Just before halftime, Norwich came back and this time McCloud-Holman got just reward for his hard work.
At 24-22, then, it was anybody’s game. Both teams were trying to push the pace - and were taking quick taps on penalties more than other options (perhaps in part because neither team’s lineout was anything to write home about). Whitewater had to have discussed not getting so many penalties in the rucks, while Norwich had seen the path to victory - hold onto the ball.
But the second half belonged to the Warhawks. Good ball handling gave an early opportunity for wing Alec Treuhardt. Then a deep kick and chase from Shibilski allowed Haase to get his second..
Levi Van Lanen and Treuhardt passed back and forth between each other in a nifty movement that put Van Lanen over, and then Treuhardt and hooker Jacob Huskisson also scored. Sindic also got one, reward for a strong game. His sidestepping and ability to use his support showed he continues to improve as a player.
The change in play from one half to another was all about experience.
“Almost all of us have been here before,” said Eric Pachowitz, the captain. “We have 14 of the starting 15 who have played in a national final. So we just had to pick up the intensity and get it together. Norwich is a really good team. They have quick flow in the backs and their forwards are tough to match up against, which is why they’re hear. We had a lot of unnecessary penalties, and we needed to get out of that habit.”
Whitewater kept trying to poach the ball in the rucks, and it was usually resulting in a knock-on, or a penalty. So that was another adjustment they needed to make.
“What we did do a really good job of was holing them up when they came in high; we just needed to find the right balance,” said the flyhalf. “In the second half we showed the firepower we have.”
There were good performances all around. St. Pierre and McCloud-Holman, as well as Pierone for Norwich excelled. For Whitewater, Sindic and Van Lanen set the tone in the midfield, while the back row of Bell, Haase, and John Grams was excellent. Scrumhalf Tim Grams and Pachowitz looked to be in top form, and certainly Sunday’s opponent in the final, Furman, knows they have their hands full.
Tries: Shibilski, Healey, Haase 2, Bell, Treuhardt 2, Sindic, Van Lanen, Huskisson
Convs: T. Grams 4
Tries: Hill, St. Pierre 2, McCloud-Holman
Convs: Frick 3