LOVES PARK, Ill. – Ohio State and Wisconsin’s Nov. 15 Big Ten Universities Rugby Championship Final will highlight the 2014 BTU Championships to be held at the Sportscore Two facility in Loves Park, Ill.
Wisconsin sees itself into the Final after a 46-10 dismantling of Minnesota. In a match that only required the Badgers to prevent a bonus point win by the Gophers, Wisconsin jumped out to the early lead and never looked back.
“Our backline was crisp and our forwards were putting in the work that they usually do,” said Wisconsin center Matoko Noudehou. “So, it was just another business day for us.”
The dominating performance also allowed Head Coach Nic Tyson to empty his bench, giving his first XV an additional breather prior to this week’s training. Noudehou was in the group of starters who were removed from the match. The stalwart No. 13 scored two tries before getting dinged up, but he is confident he will be plenty healthy for the BTU Championship.
Ohio State, on the other hand, used a thrilling, come-from-behind victory against rival Michigan to clinch its spot in the Conference Championship match. After falling behind, 22-8, just minutes into the second half, the Buckeyes reeled off 22 unanswered points to derail the Wolverines, 34-22.
The turning point in the matched was the moment loose forward Santino Cua came on for injured flanker Zach Diakiw. Cua hadn’t played since injuring his shoulder in the team’s 38-12 win over Purdue Oct. 18. The natural number eight not only gave his mates an emotional boost, but was a physical presence amongst the forwards, as well.
The BTU title game will be a rematch of an Oct. 25 meeting that went the way of Wisconsin. Playing at home, the Badgers sprinted to a 17-0 lead just 20 minutes into the match, and eventually won, 48-24.
Neither team seems to be paying much attention to the regular season result between the two during their final week of training.
“We know they were missing a number of guys last time, and they’ve had a lot of time to get healthy and improve,” Noudehou said. “So, we’re preparing as if we hadn’t beaten them earlier in the season.”
Ohio State’s 12-point win over No. 12 Michigan is proof that the Buckeyes have indeed improved a great deal over the course of the season, and should not get doubled-up by Wisconsin come Nov. 15.
“We just weren’t clicking when we played Wisconsin,” explained Ohio State full back Taylor Huff. “But this win against Michigan really fired up the entire team, and we’re confident we can handle Wisconsin this time around. It’s going to be a tough game, but if we play like we did against Michigan I’m sure we can play with Wisconsin.”
A major reason Wisconsin has compiled a 5-1 record and will play for a Conference Championship has been the coaching staff’s ability to identify opponents’ strengths and building a defensive scheme around limiting the effectiveness of those strengths. The effective game planning will have to continue this week for the Badgers to beat the Buckeyes a second time in less than a month.
“Ohio State has a few strong runners, and we’ll need to key up on them and make sure they are not breaking the gain line,” said Noudehou.
One of those impact runners is danger-man JoJo Eramo. The explosive winger is a former high school running back, and has tallied 12 tries on the season – including back-to-back hat tricks to conclude the BTU regular season.
“You know when he touches the ball that he’s looking to beat his man and score,” Huff remarked. “JoJo has a nose for the try zone and he’s really confident when he has the ball.”
On the flipside, Wisconsin hasn’t had one single player dominate the stat sheet. The Badgers have scored more total points than Ohio State, but only have one player, wing Tyler Crass, who has scored more than four tries. Needless to say, the Buckeyes won’t be able to limit their defensive focus on one or two Badgers.
The 2014 BTU Rugby Championship game is scheduled to kick off at 3 p.m. CT, and will be aired on Coaches Aid.