Tennessee avenged one loss and overcame a nearly successful comeback bid to advance to the DI-AA semifinals.
The Volunteers first faced Maryland on Saturday. The Terrapins knocked off Tennessee much earlier in the season, when the Vols were fresh off of a run to the USA Rugby 7s National Championships.
Saturday, Maryland was without Trevor Tanifum and Matias Cima, its two biggest stars, and Tennessee was playing with a chip on its shoulder.
“We really, really wanted another chance at Florida, because we just really didn’t feel like we gave our best effort in Montgomery in the (Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference) championship game,” said Tennessee coach Marty Bradley.
“And we realized to do that we had to get through Maryland, which is a team that happened to beat us six or seven months ago, so luckily, it was a team that we knew we had to focus on so we didn’t overlook Maryland.”
The Vols dispatched of the Maryland somewhat easily, 47-13. However, they wouldn’t get another shot at Florida, because the Gators were upset 34-12 by rivals Florida State.
Tennessee opened up quickly against the Seminoles on Sunday, racing out to a 17-3 advantage in the opening quarter of the game. But Florida State bounced back, and actually took a 24-23 lead early in the second half.
FSU’s comeback was built on the back of Tennessee’s indiscipline at the breakdown, as FSU took the lead when the Vols had a man in the bin for repeated infringements.
“Our big problem today seemed to be coming in from the side. We were stepping over the tackle instead of coming from behind them on our side of the tackle. We tried to steal their ball, and that’s just over anxiousness on our part. We were in a big game, and we had a big opponent,” said Bradley.
“I think that put them under stress and they realized, hey, no more penalties, so we kind of got the penalty count under control a little bit, and just started running.”
Tennessee ran in 22 unanswered points to end the game winners.
“We showed some courage in the face of adversity,” said Bradley. “We got ahead, but we got behind, and we came back.”