Wisconsin won the inaugural Big Ten Universities 15s Championship Saturday, beating Ohio State 30-10 in Cottage Grove, Wisc.
The Badgers have experienced a lot of success the last few years, winning Big Ten 7s titles, playing on National Television in the Collegiate Rugby Championship and in USA Rugby’s 7s and 15s National Playoffs. So where does winning the Big Ten in 15s rank?
“It’s pretty big. It’s the first year we’ve actually had this conference, so we’ll always be the guys that won it the first year we had it, so that’s pretty neat,” said Wisconsin coach Skip Heffernan, “and 15s is more of the whole team as well, so everybody’s celebrating that.”
Ohio State got on the board first in the final, pounding in a try through the pack. Scott Messi touched it down, and the Buckeyes led 5-0 after the conversion attempt was missed.
“Their forwards were big and strong,” said Heffernan, “and when they got down in our end they were really tough to keep out of the in-goal.”
Ohio State went back on the attack and were threatening the Wisconsin line when Badger fullback Jordy Heginbottom managed a good clearance kick to relieve pressure. He then made another big play with his boot, slotting a penalty near midfield through a stiff crosswind.
“They were on top of us until that, and that seemed to kind of swing the momentum a little bit,” Heffernan said.
Wisconsin ran in one converted try before halftime, and the Badgers took a 10-5 lead into the break. They exploded in the second half, though, stretching the lead to 30-5 before Buckeyes managed their second try.
Heginbottom and fullback Tom Hemmings, who scored three tries on the day and was named Big Ten Tournament MVP, were excellent for Wisconsin.
“They were really seeing the field well and were able to see some gaps and take advantage of them,” Heffernan said.
Hemmings has been a lethal player for Wisconsin all season, in 15s and 7s, and he continues to confound defenses with his lean frame and lengthy stride.
“He just seems to see a hole and then glide through. You don’t think he’s going to make it, but he’s deceptively fast,” said Heffernan of Hemmings. “I think that happens to the tacklers, too. They think they got him and then all of a sudden, he’s beyond them a little bit.”
With the win, Wisconsin has earned the right to challenge Colorado, who finished second in the West, for a spot in the DI-A Quarterfinals. The Badgers will play in Boulder, Colo. April 20.