Chico State had to play their quarterfinal and semifinal match on back-to-back days just like everyone else, but the Bobcats got to do it in front of a home crowd.
While the Wildcats didn’t put up the crazy scoring margin that Dartmouth did in the east, they'll have a championship level defense to fall back on in the D1AA Spring Championship final.
Here's how we got a Chico State v Dartmouth final.
Chico State vs Kansas
The teams held each other scoreless for the first 29 minutes of the contest, like heavyweight fighters feeling each other out. Chico State waited for Kansas to make a mistake and right
Jitters, mistakes and strong defense from both sides made for a scoreless game until Kansas fullback Jonathan Dienst received a yellow card, and Chico capitalized, scoring a minute later.
In the second half, however, the Jayhawks struck back with a try from Ryan Russell to make it 7-7.
The match remained tied for another 23 minutes, until Chico flanker Ryan Gust broke through. That made it 12-7 and then it all went haywire. Barely a minute later the referee red-carded both Chico State hooker Bryan Laffey and Dienst from Kansas, who, you will remember, had already received yellow card.
“While I believe there was some sort of contact from boot to head there was absolutely no malice was involved. No malicious intent whatsoever,” said Chico State head coach Lucas Bradbury.
But the punishment stood, and both teams were down to 14 for the remainder of the match.
Chico State circled up and immediately extended their lead to 21-7 with a try from Michael Kirwan. Anton Holm converted (his third), and would add a penalty to seal it.
The Wildcats had done enough to survive Kansas, but would they be able to keep their heads cool enough to see themselves through to a national title?
Chico State 24 Kansas 7
Long Beach State vs Western Washington
Western Washington has been pummeling teams all season in the Northwest. For the D1AA quarterfinal they traveled over 750 miles down to California to take on Long Beach State a long way from home.
The Vikings built a lead on Long Beach, but unlike their regular season matches, this was not going to be a runaway. By the 60th minute Long Beach had had enough. With the Vikings up 24-13, the 49ers ran in tries by Toa Leuta, Bruce Yun, and Steven Bodley to secure a 30-24 victory.
A tough loss like that can send a team packing or really fire them up. Western Washington rallied the next day to put a statement 71-14 thumping on Kansas. Western Washington will be back.
Chico State vs Long Beach State
Against Long Beach, Chico State found their hero in Matthew Mulholland.
After only seeing ten minutes off the bench in the quarterfinal match, Mulholland scored the first three tries of the match to give Chico a 17-3 lead just 34 minutes in.
Mulholland would later be sent off with a yellow, like three other players in the match. But his job was done his team had an 18-point lead with only 12 minutes to play.
Long Beach was up against the impossible. But just like the day before they made a run and scored three tries in just 15 minutes.
When the final whistle blew Long Beach’s comeback effort was just two points short, and Chico State punched its ticket to the D1AA Spring Championship Final.
Chico State won’t be caught off guard by the reigning champs in the spring championship final.
“Dartmouth are the back-to-back champs, and I believe them. But we’re coming,” said Bradbury.
Dartmouth vs Sam Houston State
Sam Houston State were underdogs against the reigning champs long before injury and player availability issues arrived. They put up a fight with the 15 men that made the bus trip from Texas to North Carolina.
Jasper Green struck first and often for Dartmouth. The outside center out of Perth, Australia broke through several times for a hat trick and man of the match performance.
The Bearkats got on the board with a score from Nick Wright, but Dartmouth quickly ran away with the victory after Dartmouth’s flanker Malcolm Robinson scored two tries in three minutes in the second half.
“They’re a really well-coached team, and you could tell,” said Sam Houston’s captain Deionte McMurray.
For much of the match the Bearkats played with just 14 men due to an early injury and an already weakened rotation. Their issues didn't end with that loss. The team is still in the vans on the way home and does not expect to arrive until Tuesday morning.
Dartmouth had a chance to get a lot of their starters off the field in the blowout victory. While Sam Houston State wouldn't have the numbers to face Iowa State in the consolation match.
UCF vs Iowa State
UCF had a fairly easy run in Florida this spring, but Iowa State had to battle each week in the Heart of America.
This match turned out to be the tightest of any of the D1AA quarterfinals. For UCF it probably felt like business as usual. The Golden Knights jumped out to a 29-7 lead with 20 minutes remaining.
UCF’s hooker Michael McNeil had two tries to that point in the second half, but then came Iowa State’s comeback.
The Cyclones’ winger put down two late tries including the equalizer and with seven minutes left to play the score was 29-29.
But UCF had a hero in their hooker. It was McNeil that dotted down his third try of the second half to advance UCF to the national semifinal.
Dartmouth vs UCF
UCF had the lead over the reigning champs with thirty minutes to play, which turned out to be too much time.
The Golden Knights traded blows in the first half and even into the second half, but what was a 17-16 lead for UCF turned into a 57-17 head-scratcher.
UCF lost both their flankers to injury in the match, which eased pressure on Dartmouth’s interior backs and No. 8.
Dartmouth had five players score two or more tries in two days. If you’re Chico State you’ve got a whole lot of firepower coming your way from the men in green.
Don’t forget Dartmouth let UCF hang around for a while. Chico’s defense isn’t so kind to let opposition creep back into a match.