LOVES PARK, Ill. – By defeating Ohio State 34-20 Nov. 15, Wisconsin claimed the 2014 Big Ten Universities Rugby Conference Championship.
Frigid temperatures prevented the two sides from breaking an early sweat, and may have played a part in the limited scoring opportunities over the first 40 minutes. Ohio State would eventually initiate the scoring and earn its one and only lead on the day when a successful penalty kick made it 3-0.
After evening the match at three-all, Wisconsin’s Neil Warren scored the first try of the BTU Championship Final and gave his team an 8-3 advantage going into halftime.
To start the second half, Ohio State once again opted for points off of a penalty and narrowed Wisconsin’s lead to 8-6. In arguably the play of the match, the Badgers halted Ohio State’s momentum with a breakout try from center Matoko Noudehou to give Wisconsin its biggest lead of 15-6.
Sanito Cua, who returned from injury and scored a try in Ohio State’s must-win Nov. 8 match, kept the Buckeyes in the game with two second-half scores. However, the terrific effort from Cua and company would not be enough, as tries from Tyler Crass, Jack Gross, and Jacob Soundcard would see Wisconsin on to the win and a Conference Championship.
Hunter Crass, twin brother of Tyler, was named the match’s Most Valuable Player for his touchline-to-touchline effort. Hunter Crass has reveled in his brother’s return to rugby after Tyler Crass spent his freshman year playing baseball at Concordia University Wisconsin.
“We played sports together growing up, so having him play alongside me has been pretty neat,” said the BTU Championship MVP. “We seem to know what the other is going to do, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
The BTU Championship victory guarantees Wisconsin a spot in the D1A Playoffs, as well as home-field advantage in their opening match of the Playoffs. The cancelation of a September match against No. 5 Lindenwood prevented the Badgers from showing what they can do against one of the nation’s best, but the team seems confident their excellence can extend beyond the BTU.
“I definitely think we could compete with some of the higher-level teams in the country,” Hunter Crass said. “We’re not a team that is just 10 deep. We have 15 solid players and our entire bench can compete as well.”
With a postseason-ineligible Indiana squad overwhelmingly believed to be the best team in the BTU, it might be difficult for a team in the conference outside of Wisconsin to break in to the D1A Playoffs, although Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State should all receive legitimate consideration.