Penn State added another DI Women’s College National Championship trophy to its collection, defeating Stanford 32-12 in today’s final. Stanford was vying for its fourth national title, and 2012’s match marked the sixth time the east and west coast institutions met in the championship match. The two squads beat up their semifinal opponents and no one else deserved to duke out the title.
The first half was brilliant. Both sides were incredibly physical in the breakdown – all over the field for that matter – and took advantage of each other's mistakes. Able fullbacks Sadie Anderson (Penn State) and Jamaica Osorio countered each other well, and a battle for field position sent play to each either end.
Both sides failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities in the first quarter, and the first try didn’t evolve until the 24th minute. It all started with standout outside center Bisi Ibrahim. She was a perpetual turnover threat, and was perfectly positioned for a bobbled pass in the PSU back line. She returned the ball into Penn State’s end.
Both sides were patient as Stanford sent the ball from sideline to sideline looking for an opportunity to pierce. The Cardinal managed to keep possession through an impressive number of phases, although PSU looked to turn it over at every breakdown. Wing Smriti Sridhar made some ground to inch closer, and then a Stanford penalty allowed the offense to reset. An overload finally evolved for Stanford and Ibrahim split the sliding defenders for the 5-0 lead.
On the very next possession, Penn State tied it up. The team worked the ball into Stanford’s end, then Championship MVP Kasey Ferlic switched fields and moved the ball to Anderson inserting at incredible pace. She outraced wing Michelle Teo for the corner try, 5-all.
Stanford flyhalf Jamie Lawrence was the next to score and Alyson Gleason’s conversion maintained the Cardinal’s lead when Ferlic ran in a try two minutes before the break, 12-10 to Stanford.
“At halftime, it was a matter of just talking about the little technical things we could do better,” PSU flyhalf Ferlic said. “And then one of our players – Lisa Henneman, who was ineligible to play this year – gave a really awesome motivational speech. That got our spirits up and we just came out full force in the second half.”
The second half began with another kicking exchange, as Anderson and Osorio sent long, booming kicks into each other’s end. Finally, one of Osorio’s clearing kicks from outside her 22 meter went straight out, and Penn State was awarded a lineout in Stanford’s half. An excellent driving maul off the lineout got the Nittany Lions closer to the Cardinal’s line, and a series of pick-and-goes stressed the defense. The weak side was eventually neglected, and Ferlic was there for the outlet pass and try from 10 meters out, 15-12 PSU.
“The turning point came after we started playing down in their end,” Ferlic said. “That was our game plan from the start. Once we got a couple of tries, we started smiling and having fun. From then on, we stuck to our game, and we started flowing. I like to call it: We got our team mojo. And we put it to them.”
Anderson’s second try came eight-and-a-half minutes in, and came about in identical fashion to Penn State’s previous try: pretty driving lineout, picks from the base, then out wide to the back line, where Anderson inserted at pace, 20-12.
“We just figured out their game plan and capitalized on their weaknesses,” Ferlic explained. “We realized that jamming was going to work well, so we hit it hard and sucked them in. And then we like to change direction and move it out wide.”
Six minutes later and Penn State was back attacking the tryline. Stanford looked to ease the pressure with another clearing kick, but the team struggled with realizing the 22-meter rule. On multiple occasions, a breakdown in front of the 22 meter was followed by an outlet pass to a kicker behind the 22 meter, and the kicker kept sending the ball straight out, handing over possession.
Lawrence’s error set up a Penn State scrum, which methodically started to march toward the line. Scrumhalf Elena Cantorna dotted it down for the 25-12 lead.
Penn State’s last score came in the 75th minute, when PSU stole a Stanford scrum five meters out, then walked it over for flanker Christiane Pheil to dot down. Anderson hit the conversion for the 32-12 win.
The most impressive aspect of Penn State’s game was their ability to make ground when on defense. They never let up their pressure, and when Stanford got possession, they couldn’t move forward. There were some exceptions – No. 8 Amelia Villines skirting around the weakside, and Ibrahim stealing possession in the tackle – but nothing amounted to a sustained possession.
“I’m completely exhausted,” Ferlic panted. “It was an extremely physical game; Stanford came out hard against us. We had subs come on in the second half who made a big impact, but I think we just out-worked them when it came down to it.”
Yes, Ferlic scored two tries, but her she was named MVP for what she set up for her teammates.
“I stepped up, but it wasn’t for me,” Ferlic said. “I count on the 14 players on the field, those on the sideline, everyone back home. They all supported me – it was for them. It was a team win – it wasn’t mine. It just so happens that I’m the team MVP.”
Ferlic began her career with Penn State as flyhalf, then moved to wing for three years, and returned to her final year at PSU in the position where it all began. It’s been a sweet year for Ferlic and Penn State, and they certainly deserved the national trophy.