We may have seen the best game of the Women’s DII College Championship in the Norwich and Washington State’s semifinal this morning. The game wasn’t decided until the final minutes of the game, and until that time, it looked like Washington State was going to head to the Big Show.
It was a familiar scenario for both teams; the two met at the 2010 Final Four and the Cougars pulled off a 15-5 win en route to their national title. And with the time ticking away, WSU clung to a 15-14 lead over Norwich.
Washington State led for the majority of the match thanks to the lions’ share of possession. WSU got a lot of help from Norwich, which was continually retreating 10 due to offsides and coming in from the side penalties. Norwich knocked on a lot, as well. They showed glimmers of their dynamism – especially offloading out of the tackle at full speed – but couldn’t turn anything into momentum.
Washington State did a good job of attacking the fringe and their mobile forwards proved more difficult to stop than Norwich’s opponents to date.
WSU spent the first eight or so minutes in Norwich’s half and had two tries held up before making good on a five-pointer. Norwich was poised to clear the ball out of their end, but a hurried, too-hard outlet pass from the scrum caused flyhalf Emily Baugus to knock on. From the subsequent scrum, WSU flyhalf Alexis Bonny skirted past the defense and got to the two meter. Sister and lock Savannah Bonny picked up and dove over. Outside center Anne Peterson made the conversion – 7-0.
Both sides had the chance to fatten their score as the game waged on, but when unforced errors didn’t hand over possession, the teams’ ability to poach and drive over the ruck did. Finally, with a couple minutes left in the half, Norwich was given another opportunity to build on an attacking series from a midfield scrum. Norwich No. 8 Katie Hathaway picked weak and held onto the ball a little too long. As she tried to get the pass of to scrumhalf Emily Orr coming off her shoulder, WSU wing Sam Pederson stepped into the lane and returned the intercept 50 meters for the try in the corner, 12-0.
Norwich coach Austin Hall wasn’t worried about his side, reinforced their confidence at the break and watched as captain Hathaway reinvigorated her teammates.
WSU kept that pressure defense up in the second half but Norwich found some success with flat passes to players inserting into the line. The defense over-committed to outside Jackie Derocher and she tore down the field as WSU fullback Megan Bonny pulled her down. Substitute wing Andrea Vogt was there for the offload and was dragged down meters from the line. A ruck later and Norwich’s quick support built an overwhelming overload out wide, allowing lock Meaghan Weppner the easy try. Baugus hit the conversion, 12-7.
But much like the first half, Norwich had trouble with penalties, although not to the same extent, and WSU inside center Shelby Mastroianni – who was excellent on both sides of the ball – slotted a three-pointer for the 15-7 lead with 18 minutes left.
Norwich started to get the ball wide in the third quarter and watched as Vogt and Joya Clark made massive gains up the sideline. Vogt scored after Hathaway broke weak off a 10-meter scrum, dished to Orr, and as the defense collapsed on the scrumhalf, she shipped it out to Vogt, who took the corner. Baugus made an excellent sideline conversion to pull within one point(15-14) with 13 minutes left.
Norwich’s fitness started to take center stage. As play started to get a little scrappy, Norwich was able to clean it up and work it wide, where the foot races ensued. WSU fullback Megan Bonny had the pace to track down breakaways, but was also vulnerable to the fend.
A Bonny v Clark showdown went Norwich’s way, and just as the winger was dragged down meters from the line, she left the ball unguarded for Drocher’s pickup. An easy trot into the try zone put Norwich up 21-15 with Baugus’ conversion.
That really took the wind out of WSU’s sails, and they let in a soft try from inside center Vanessa Champagne with no time left on the clock, 28-15 Norwich.
It was an incredible come-from-behind win from Norwich; heartbreaking for Washington State. Norwich will play Winona, which defeated Shippensburg 24-12 in their semifinal, in tomorrow’s championship match.
Stay tuned for player and coach feedback.