November 12 - Forty-eight teams across four divisions enter the weekend with national championship hopes, and only 12 will still cling to them come Sunday night, as men’s playoffs kickoff at regional sites in Culpeper, VA, Knoxville, TN, Malden, MA, Reading, PA, St. Louis, MO, Vallejo, CA and a smattering of on-campus venues across the country. Teams from every division share a common goal – get to the national championships Dec. 8-10 at AVEVA Stadium in Houston, TX.
With Kutztown and Principia punching the final two tickets to the national quarterfinals over the weekend, winning respective play-in matches, the eight-team field vying for a national title is set. Saturday, top seeds will host the opening round, with winners advancing to the semifinals Dec. 2 at Penn State Berks.
Kutztown’s Golden Bears clinched a quarterfinal berth with an 11-7 defeat of Southern Conference champion Belmont Abbey in Culpeper, VA, and the reward is a trip to top-seeded and undefeated Brown. The defending national champs, led by All-American lock Ollie Corbett, reclaimed the Liberty Conference crown, besting Siena 32-7 in the league final.
In Chicago, Big Rivers runner-up Principia was dominant early over Iona, third in the Liberty, establishing a 24-7 advantage. The Gaels surged late, but the Thunderchickens held on to win 34-24, paced by two tries from Tobias Duque and six successful kicks by Damir Conci. Their reward is a meeting with Big Ten champion Indiana in a stark contrast of programs – the Hoosiers field an entirely American roster of mostly in-state Indianans, while Principia has just one in-state player and a healthy contingent from rugby hotbeds South Africa, Zimbabwe and Argentina.
On the other half of the bracket, second-ranked Notre Dame College will host Siena in South Euclid, OH in the first-ever meeting of these programs. The Falcons have momentum coming into the playoffs, having beaten St. Bonaventure 28-19 Nov. 4 to end the regular season. In the semifinals, either the Saints or Falcons will draw Saturday’s winner between Principia and Indiana.
Awaiting the winner between Kutztown and Brown is the victor in Wheeling, WV, where the Big Rivers champion Cardinals host third-ranked St. Bonaventure, 2021 national champions. Wheeling opened the season 0-2 with losses to Mary Washington and Queens before reeling off five-straight to claim the conference crown.
The quarterfinals kick off Saturday, with the winners advancing to the national semifinals Dec. 2 at Penn State Berks. North Carolina State was the last team in, defeating Maryland 46-12 in the play-in match Saturday in Raleigh, NC. For their efforts, the Wolfpack draw top-ranked Kentucky in the quarterfinals. After dropping their season opener to DI Marian, the Wildcats have won seven in a row.
Getting the winner of Kentucky versus NC State will be the victor between Liberty champion Boston College and Mid-Atlantic runner-up West Chester. The Eagles suffered just one loss this fall, to UMass, but avenged it in the conference final, 41-31. The Rams started the season off 5-0 before falling to defending national champion Virginia Tech in the MARC title match.
Louisville entered the season ranked No. 1, but fell outside the top 10 after back-to-back October losses to Bowling Green and Western Michigan. Saturday in the MAC semifinals, the Cardinals exacted revenge against the Broncos, 31-30. Sunday, they beat the Falcons emphatically, 47-17, claiming a second-straight conference title. In the quarterfinals, Louisville draws Southeastern runner-up Tennessee. The Vols finished the season 6-1, their lone loss at the hands of Kentucky.
Undefeated, two-time defending national champion Virginia Tech claimed the MARC championship with a 50-22 win over West Chester, and the Hokies, led by prop Hunter Danesi and flyhalf Will Richey, look poised for another title run. Standing in their way in the quarterfinals is Liberty runner-up UMass.
16 teams remain in the hunt for a Division II national championship. The four still standing after Sunday will advance to the national semifinals in Houston. With a robust series of play-in games, three conference champions have already been eliminated from the postseason.
Vermont, the third seed from the New England Wide, knocked off Tri-State champ, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, and drew Liberty champion Marist in the Round of 16. MARC third-seed Scranton beat Cardinals champion Virginia, earning a first-round meeting with Allegheny champ Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The second-ranked Crimson Hawks look like a title contender, led by senior scrumhalf RJ Beach and phenom utility forward Cam Taylor.
The Loyola Ramblers, third seed out of the Great Midwest, earned a third-straight weekend of knockout rugby by upending Northern Lights champion Minnesota Mankato Saturday. Flyhalf Will Fehr and the ‘Blers beat Northwestern in Wisconsin two weeks ago to advance to the play-in game in Iowa, and next week in Missouri they’ve got High Peaks champion Montana State in the Round of 16.
Joining Vermont and Marist in the East Region in Reading, PA are New England Wide champion Maine and MARC runner-up Villanova. The Wildcats booked the meeting with the Black Bears by knocking Southern Conference runner-up Coastal Carolina out in the play-in rounds.
Playing in the South Region in Culpeper, VA with IUP and Scranton are New England Wide runner-up Norwich and Southern champion UNC Wilmington. Joining Loyola and Montana State in the West Region in St. Louis are Great Midwest champion Northern Iowa, ranked No. 1 in the country, and Gateway Champion Saint Louis University.
Contesting the Midwest Region in Knoxville, TN are MARC champion Georgetown, Southeastern champion Memphis, Great Midwest runner-up Wisconsin-Whitewater and Great Lakes champion Grand Valley State. The Lakers draw the Hoyas after beating Allegheny runner-up Miami (OH) in the play-in round Saturday, while the Warhawks try to rebound against the Tigers after leaking 90 points to UNI in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago.
National championship hopes are alive and well for 16 teams in Men’s Small College, while those of the four who fell in Saturday’s play-in round are already dashed.
There, Mid-America champion Wayne State defeated Great Midwest champion Wisconsin Eau Claire 69-12, SCRC champion Southeastern Louisiana beat the College of Charleston 42-38, Cardinals runner-up Christendom downed Susquehanna 28-18 and New England runner-up Holy Cross beat Colonial Coast runner-up Roger Williams 36-24.
Lining up in the Midwest Region in St. Louis with 2022 national runner-up Wayne State is Allegheny second-seed Franciscan. Awaiting the winner in Sunday’s quarterfinal will be either Northern Lights champion St. John’s or Allegheny champion Slippery Rock.
The West Region at Cal Maritime in Vallejo, CA is stacked, starting with defending champion Cal Poly Humboldt. The Lumberjacks, who conceded just two tries in conference play, draw High Peaks champion Colorado School of Mines in the opening round. One of the teams to score against Humboldt, Cal Maritime, draws Northwest champion Western Oregon in the Round of 16.
Grouped with Christendom and Southeast Louisiana in the South Region in Culpeper, VA are Cardinals champion Virginia Military Institute and Mid-Atlantic champion Catholic, a returning semifinalist from 2022. The Cardinals draw 2021 national champion Christendom in the opening round, while the Lions face VMI.
In the East Region in Malden, MA it’s New England Wide champion Springfield versus New England champion Babson, featuring All American Reed Santos, and Colonial Coast champion Endicott against play-in winners Holy Cross.