(Sandy, UT) A resurgent Davenport pulled away with a flurry of second-half scoring, defeating Dartmouth 35-18 at Rio Tinto Stadium to return to the D1-AA national championship match.
Freshman fullback Madison Hughes broke the game open with an 8th minute try, following a tandem run with wing Kevin Clark. The Junior All-American passed to Clark, who in turn fed the ball back for a 5-0 lead. Minutes later, Davenport would tie the score 5-5, as the Panthers' backline swung the ball to outside center Adam Ries for an unconverted try.
Rough-and-tumble play at the ruck led to a penalty goal for the Big Green, easily slotted by Hughes. Dartmouth recovered Davenport's kick after the restart and spun the ball wide to Clark for a penetrating run - he scored, Hughes converted, and the Big Green was up 15-5 with just under twenty minutes to play in the first half.
Davenport soon turned it around and kept ball in hand for the remaining quarter: All-American flyhalf JP Eloff effortlessly slotted two penalty goals before halftime. Dartmouth held a 15-11 lead as both teams retired to the locker room.
In the second stanza, the Panthers came out firing on all cylinders, winning possession with powerful scrummaging. Early scores from hooker Gabe Sochanek and lock Demecus Beach brough the score to 23-15, Davenport's first lead of the match.
Dartmouth built an effective beachhead in DU's half and came dangerously close to scoring, but had to settle for another Hughes penalty. Davenport forced a turnover, pushing the Big Green back into their own half - then JP Eloff chased down a kick and planted it in the try zone. The South African converted his own try, making it 30-18 with just over fifteen minutes left.
Effective kicking from the Big Green's backs repeatedly pinned Davenport within their own half, and several times, Dartmouth came dangerously close to tumbling over the try line. But heavy penalties at the ruck (for both sides) meant more scrums, where Davenport's size and athleticism proved a big advantage. The Panthers barreled back into the other half, and a 77th penalty try awarded to center Erin Hillary sealed the game, 35-18.
Davenport, the 2011 D1-AA champions, advance to the national title match against San Diego State at 6:30PM EST today. (The title match will be streamed online: the Aztecs defeated Tennessee 25-12 in the semifinals.) After returning from Utah, Dartmouth has two weeks to prepare for the CRC 7s as defending champions - the Big Green returns most of the starters from their 2011 championship squad.
Tries: Adam Ries, Gabe Sochanek, Demecus Beach, JP Eloff
Penalty try: Erin Hillary
Conversions: JP Eloff (2)
Penalty goals: JP Eloff (2)
Dartmouth Big Green
Tries: Madison Hughes, Kevin Clark
Conversion: Madison Hughes
Penalty goals: Madison Hughes (2)