Lindenwood beat Western Washington 38-22 Saturday in Bowling Green, Ohio to advance to the DI-AA National Championship game. The reigning DII National Champs utilized a big second half to separate from the Vikings and make their second final in as many years of existence.
Lindenwood opened scoring with a try from fullback Morgan Findlay that exposed soft WWU Tackling, but the Vikings returned the favor just after. Off a ruck, flanker Jon Kaimmer just ran to the No. 2 channel, caught a flat pass and trotted in. Western’s try converted and Lindenwood’s not, the Vikings led 7-5.
Then Lindenwood went back on the offensive and camped in Western’s 22. The Lions’ pressure was rewarded with a penalty, which they quick’-tapped and gave to lock Colin Bartolomeo for a try. Converted, the Lions led 12-7.
WWU knotted up the game off of a Lindenwood penalty. The Vikings kicked to the corner and delivered a short, flat ball to flyhalf Quinten Wilms for a try off the lineout. The conversion was missed. Western continued to shock the Lions when senior scrumhalf Matt Jensen scampered in for a try, giving the Vikings a 17-12 lead.
However, Findlay, the best player on the field, made a fantastic run to level the score and slotted the subsequent conversion to put Lindenwood on top 19-17 at halftime.
The Lions, who are used to blowing out divisional opponents, were lucky to be up at intermission, and they knew it.
“It was just attitude, and then just reducing it down to just doing the simple things and doing the simple things well, and that wins at any level,” said Lindenwood coach Ron Laszewski of the halftime plan.
“Everybody was pretty out of control for the first half. They were just rushing things, so we just slowed things down a bit and got it done.”
Lindenwood wing Kolton Nelson scored his first try to open the second half and extend the lead, and Findlay bagged a hat-trick to push the advantage even further to 31-17.
“If you’ve seen him play, he’s pretty dangerous,” said Lindenwood coach Ron Laszewski of Findlay. “They tried not to kick to him, but our wingers or whoever was hanging back did a good job of just halfback passing the ball to Morgan, and off he went. He started a lot of dangerous things for us just by that.”
Jensen seemed to have scored his second try and stopped the Lindenwood run, but it wasn’t counted. He grubbered a ball into the posts, grabbed it off the ground and scored, but the referee called a phantom knock-on, turning the ball back over to Lindenwood. Western did score five minutes later when a prop lumbered down the sideline to cut the difference to nine.
Nelson finished off a long period of sustained pressure with his second try and Lindenwood’s last score of the game, bringing the final score to 38-22.
Laszewski wasn’t particularly pleased with his team’s performance, but he was complimentary of Western.
“It wasn’t a thing of beauty,” he said, “and Western Washington, they’re a well coached, fit team with decent structure on both sides of the ball, so hats off to them. They’ve got a good program there.”
Standing between Lindenwood and a second-straight National Championship is Central Florida, surprise winners over Dartmouth in the other semifinal.
“They’ve got some monsters in the forward pack, and it’ll just be a day to tackle well,” said Laszewski of UCF and Sunday. “They remind me a lot of Bowling Green: really good looking athletes, big, strong. They definitely spend their time in the weight room, and it’ll be interesting.”