Burlington v Portland /// Photo: Dana Katelin Marchitelli
Many great playoff games occurred last weekend, but Burlington had the toughest nationals-qualifying weekend. The DII Northeast champion held off Portland 19-17 in the semifinals, and then overcame Providence 15-10 in overtime Sunday.
“We’re all still mentally and physically recovering from both of those games,” Burlington coach Liz Royer said.
But last weekend’s outcome wasn’t a surprise. During league, Burlington lost to Portland and beat Providence by five points.
“Portland has been our rival for at least five years, and we always expect a tough, close game – and that’s what it was,” Royer said. “Even though we’re familiar with each other, there were a few surprises in the way of new or injured players.
“We play a similar game,” the coach added. “They have a balanced attack, strong in the forwards but can spin it out wide, score up the middle or the edges. We wanted to be prepared for anything and not get too focused on the rivalry and mental side of things.”
It was a try-trading affair, with Burlington’s scores coming from fullback Joya Clark (2) and wing Bolton Littlefield. Both have been impactful this season. Clark was an All American wing at Norwich and now coaches the men’s team in the fall, making her available for spring fixtures with Burlington. Littleton has stepped in as the new kicker and the wing’s two conversions were the difference in the scoreline.
Portland dotted down with five minutes remaining but the conversion failed, resulting in the 19-17 decision.
“That was a real confidence boost,” Royer said of the win. “We focused on one game at a time and were not looking ahead to Sunday.”
Meanwhile, Providence defeated Hartford 43-22 in the other semifinal for a berth to the Northeast final.
“Providence plays a quicker game than we do. They like to speed it up and Portland preferred to slow it down,” Royer said. “Luckily we were ready for that with Providence having just played them a couple of weeks ago. They had a few more strong players than when we played them last, and they wanted that win. They stuck it to us.”
Providence scored six minutes in and took a 5-0 lead into the break. Twelve minutes into the second half, No. 8 and co-captain Jacilin Meehan scored the first of her two tries. Providence regained the lead (10-5) in the 64th minute, and Meehan tied it up again five minutes later, 10-all.
Ten minutes remained but neither team budged. Overtime, on day two, ensued.
“The depth of roster made a difference,” Royer said. “We were able to bring in fresh legs and field a completely different roster from Saturday. That was the only advantage for us, especially in overtime.”
Eleven minutes into overtime, Clark scored her third try of the weekend, and the defense stood strong for the remainder and 15-10 win.
“We’re really excited,” Royer looked ahead to nationals. “Last year, we played [eventual champion] Wisconsin in the quarterfinals and gave them a run for their money. I think they were surprised by what they saw from us, and that was motivational. We were hungry heading into the fall. We knew what we were working toward and that we wanted to get back to nationals and prove that we belong there.
“We still intend to make it to Colorado – that’s been our goal for the past year,” Royer said of the DII final. “We’re not discounting [quarterfinal opponent] Harrisburg. They’re a huge unknown, but it’s kinda exciting that way.”
For now, Burlington has endured all the excitement it can handle, and will rest up before a couple of hard practices before the road trip. Should Burlington advance to the semifinals, it will face either Wisconsin or Charlotte.
Read more on fellow eastern bracket quarterfinalists:
Charlotte to Rep South at Nationals
MW Final Features Wisconsin Rivals