UW-Whitewater beat Northern Illinois 31-18 Sunday to claim its third* Midwest title in as many years. With the win, the Warhawks take the territory’s top seed to the Sweet 16 where they’ll face the West’s second seed. Northern Illinois gets the Midwest’s second seed and will face the West champion in the Huskies’ first-ever nationals appearance.
Whitewater and Northern Illinois traded possession, momentum and territory for most of the final’s opening quarter. It wasn’t until the 17th minute that the 0-0 tie was broken, with the Huskies taking a 3-0 lead off of a penalty.
The defending national champs responded with three-straight tries, two converted, to take a 19-3 lead. However, Whitewater’s outside center was carded just before halftime. A man up, Northern Illinois went on an 8-0 run via a penalty and unconverted try to pull within eight at 19-11 at the start of the second stanza.
“They hammered and they found a slot to get through,” said Whitewater coach Pat O’Connor. “We had worked to adjust for that guy being down, but sometimes having that extra player is an advantage. I think the guys were prepared coming out, to (NIU coach Adrian Gannon’s) credit, and they came out and put some points up."
Once at full strength, Whitewater went back on the offensive and scored a pair of tries, one converted, to take a 31-11 lead and seal the victory. Northern Illinois mustered one final score to reach the final tally.
O’Connor credits superior play in the set piece for Whitewater’s win.
“I think we did well in the scrums today. We had several times where we just drove them back and maintained possession or we took possession of their put in,” he said. “We stole I think five lineouts, so we felt good about that, and any time we can get the ball back and go do something, that’s a good thing.”
Tries: Patterson (2), Greer, Koehler, Epping
Cons: Heim (3)
(This article originally indicated Whitewater had won just two consecutive Midwest titles.)