BOULDER, Colo. – With wins from Wisconsin and Michigan, the participants of the Big Ten Universities Championship match will be decided in the final conference matches of the season this coming weekend. Michigan and Wisconsin will be vying for a spot with Indiana and Ohio State, thanks to bonus points each received in last Saturday’s matches. Purdue was also able to escape Minneapolis with a win and, though the Boilermakers aren’t in contention for the championship, are eying a .500 season after a slow, 0-3 start.
Minnesota vs. Purdue
The match started off with a try by Purdue’s number eight, Daronn Maul, in the 15th minute, matched with a successful conversion, but Minnesota was able to answer with a try of its own by Gabriel Cesarini, setting the score at 7-5. Purdue was able to cross the try line in the 21st minute, but again Minnesota answered, and, thanks to a conversion, tied the match, 12-12, in the 32nd minute. Mark O’Brien of Purdue, who scored the game-winning, last-second try against Illinois, kicked a drop goal to end the half, and another to open the second, putting the Boilermakers up, 18-12, on the muddy Saturday afternoon.
Pierrick Malherbe of Minnesota scored a try and a conversion in the 47th minute, his first try of the season, which gave Minnesota their only lead of the match, 19-18.
From there on, Purdue took control. In the last 20 minutes, it scored two tries, while holding the Gophers to none, to take this match, 28-19. The Boilermakers’ strong second half helped give them their second win in a row, and they hope to continue that streak into next week. With a win against Michigan State Nov. 7, they will end the season with a 3-3 record in conference play, a big improvement over last year’s dismal, 1-5 finish, their lone win coming in a forfeit win to Nebraska.
No. 12 Wisconsin vs. Michigan State
Besides an early penalty kick by Wisconsin’s Matoko Noudehou, Michigan State was able to hold the speedy Badgers at bay for the first 25 minutes of this match. Hunter Crass raced in for a try in the 26th minute, but that would be the only points scored in the first half, as Wisconsin led into halftime, 8-0.
The second half was a great one for Wisconsin’s Dane Fleck, who contributed a hat trick to his team’s efforts. The Badgers were able to get guys on their bench some quality playing time, and were still able to keep the Spartans away from the try line for most of the match. Michigan State was able to punch one in as time expired, but it was too late to make a difference, as Wisconsin won, 35-5.
Wisconsin will play the toughest opponent it has seen all year this weekend in Indiana. This match has big implications for both teams, and will be a thrilling battle of two strong back lines.
Illinois vs. No. 20 Michigan
The Fighting Illini entered this match on the heels of an agonizing, last-minute loss to Purdue, and responded by getting an early jump on Michigan. Matt Paolucci scored a try in the fifth minute to give Illinois an early, 7-0, lead. Michigan was able to score back-to-back tries by Englishmen Chening Duker and Tohy Rakotovololona, giving it the lead heading into halftime, 12-7.
Illinois came out of the half inspired and scored a try in the 41st minute, but that would be the last of the scoring from the Fighting Illini that day. Michigan would go on to score six tries in the second half, including two more for Duker and two from Matt Kasten, as the Wolverines routed Illinois, 52-12.
Michigan got the bonus point it needed in this match, and will head into the weekend with 19 points on the season. Their final conference match will be against Ohio State, one that has just as much importance as the Wisconsin-versus-Indiana match.
The Big Ten Universities conference has come down to its final weekend to decide who will play in the championship match. November 7 will be a day Big Ten rugby fans won’t want to miss.