The DIII club bracket has been finalized with this past weekend’s playoff games.
In Southern California, there was no championship match, but simple a semifinal, with the top-seeded team left getting the #1 seed. The top two seeds won, with Oceanside defeating Beaumont 52-10 to continue their undefeated run. Belmont Shore beat 49-36 Empire to take the #2 seed.
This was a repeat match from two weeks prior which Belmont found itself down three tries early and had to work their way back for a 33-32 win.
Empire is a new program based in Colton California that competed in the Open/Social division last year, and in their first year in the DIII did well to make it to the final weekend.
The match was a contrast in styles with Empire running a possession game, and using their massive pack running pick-and-goes and driving mauls, while Belmont countered with a mobile pack and speedy backline. Belmont led by two tries at halftime, but Empire came back early in the second half and took a 10-point lead with 20 minutes to go.
Belmont rebounded well and scored 23 points in the final quarter to win. Key to the Belmont comeback was player of the game and flyhalf Patrick Bion, and speedy reserve wing Mark Salamante, who scored two late tries to put the game away.
In the Pacific Coast, SFGG defeated Sierra Foothills 42-17 to take the top seed from that region.
Both teams earned their spot in the finals by decisive defeats of their Northwest rivals on Saturday. Sierra bested Budd Bay by 57-14, and SFGG took down Corvallis 50-17.
SFGG and Sierra Foothills know each other well, having met earlier in the season, when Serra won 26-23. Sierra Foothills looked to repeat as their front rowers scored three times to stake their club to a 17-7 halftime lead.
But a long-range try from SFGG seemed to turn the momentum. SFGG finished much the stronger, and ran in four late tries to put the game away. Certainly it seems SFGG’s depth as a club helped them handle the two-game weekend better than Sierra.
In the West, the Austin Blacks defeated Galveston 61-17 and then beat Dallas Reds 34-8. It is most telling that the top two from the region are both from the conference of DIII arms of DI clubs. And in fact four of the 16 DIII playoff teams are affiliated with DI clubs. The depth of coaching and facilities, not to mention DIII players training with DI players, is not a detriment.
Austin Director of Rugby Lachlan Ferguson said his DIII team put in a “simply remarkable performance … all season. I have to acknowledge the prodigious work my assistant coach, Steve Corcoran, has done with the whole club this year. He brings a fresh voice and ideas to the club, and this is the second time in three season that both our teams have made it to the sweet 16.”
The young forward group led by Josh Womack, Todd Westhauser and David Lafferty were excellent for Austin, while captain Dave Comerford and scrumhalf Ryan Little were also instrumental. Flyhalf Diego Sotelo was the championship MVP.