GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – An initial back-in-forth affair tuned into a route as Davenport eliminated Wheeling Jesuit from the D1A Playoffs with its 38-8 win.
A younger and less experienced Cardinals side did well to answer Davenport’s Reece Czarnecki’s two first half tries with a penalty goal and a try just before half. The late score brought Wheeling Jesuit within six points of the third-ranked Panthers, but the home team dominated the second stanza after a lesson in patients at halftime.
“We were creating some good opportunities, but weren’t utilizing them real well,” said Davenport Head Coach James Wood. “Guys were wanting to do a little too much on a carry or put themselves in a bad spot where we’d turn it over or not produce real clean ball.
“We corrected that in the second half, and lucky for us we pounced on a few little mistakes on their end and came away with points.”
AIG Men’s All-American JP Eloff had his typical brilliant performance, but did so playing less than typical positions. With starting outside center Anthony Welmers’ status uncertain for the opening round Playoff game, Eloff worked at outside center during the week of training and stayed there for the first 40 minutes of the April 18 contest before sliding to inside center for the second half. The relocation in the backline did little to affect Eloff’s impact on the match as the South African-born playmaker scored a try and banged through five conversions and a penalty.
“He’s a class act,” Wood complimented of his fly half turned utility back. “I could stick him in at tight head and he could succeed – that’s just the kind of character he has.”
Eloff’s overall skill and knowledge of the game played a part in the team’s tinkering of the backline, but so does Davenport’s depth. Typically a scrum half, Knute O’Donnell filled in well in the No. 10 jersey, and Welmers eventually got onto the pitch as a substitute and scored two tries.
“Playing in the Mid-South, which is such a physical conference, guys get knicked-up every week,” explained Wood. “So, depth is huge at this point. If you don’t have it, you will run into a team that does and it will be a problem.”
Depth will likely come into play once again in Davenport’s next match – a trip to West Point to play No. 5 Army April 25 in the D1A Quarterfinals. The Knights were awarded a Round 1 bye after winning the Rugby East Conference in the fall.