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Fresno Upsets Riverside in R16

  • 10 Apr 2016


The DII spring college quarterfinalists have been decided, and while there were some interesting results, none were so impressive than Fresno State’s 31-27 win over UC Riverside. Fresno won the DIII West Coast conference and won a DII at-large bid. The Highlanders competed at last year’s DII national championship.


“I watched Riverside play Notre Dame in the national championship last year, and I didn’t see anything that we couldn’t handle,” Fresno coach Barry Foley. “We should have been playing at DII in my opinion, but that’s the way the conference was set up this year. We knew we were coming in as the underdog but also know that we can play up. We’ve done it all year.”


Since the West Coast championship, the team has fortified its rucking game. The forwards, led by flanker Nikki Wheeler, were able to stress Riverside’s otherwise consistent poaching game. Tackling had improved greatly over the season, as well, and that played a big role in the close score. Outside center Stephanie Rovetti and a back three led by fullback Jacklyn Blankenship made some nice cover tackles that prevented precious points. But more importantly, Fresno State had cultivated a more balanced game, one that didn’t rely too heavily on the dominance of a particular unit or the scoring capabilities of individuals.


Rovetti scored the opening points in minute six. The sister of former BYU All American Morgan Rovetti was named West Coast championship MVP for her multi-try game, and the speedster was just as effective in the centers. The host responded with back-to-back tries, and then Rovetti matched the try count in minute 39 (it was actually a penalty try awarded from a high tackle). Kady Riley’s conversion tied it up 12-all at half.


Top performer and scrumhalf Moriah Halteman drove the offense as play ricocheted from end to end. Inside center Jenna Balestra was also influential in the go-forward. Riverside took a five-point lead before Wheeler snapped a stubborn defense with a dive-over try. But then another Riverside try made it 22-19 as the third quarter ended.


Alex Knapp forced another lead change with a try (24-22 Fresno), only to be answered with another Riverside score with less than 10 minutes remaining, 27-24.


“There were two minutes to go, we were on our five-meter, and honestly, I thought the game was over,” Foley thought about that final play. “But then we received a penalty, quick-tapped and Rovetti had a nice run to about the 10 meter. We recycled it a couple of times and got the ball back to Rovetti and she scored.”


Riley added the conversion with no time on the clock, and Fresno State won 31-27.


“The tears were flowing. It was so emotional, the fact that we accomplished something that we didn’t think was originally possible,” Foley said after the final whistle. “It was also tough for the players to see Riverside in their disappointment, but it was so overwhelming. We had just beat one of the best teams in the country. It was so fun to see.”


With the exception of one prop, Fresno State is healthy heading into tomorrow’s quarterfinal against USC, which defeated UC Irvine 22-20 today. Foley and squad don’t know much about the Trojans, and they’re O.K. with that. Just means the Bulldogs will focus on their game and replicate that which produced a triumph today.


In other DII spring Round of 16 news, see below:


South: Tulane 30-10 Eckerd
South: Arkansas 25-15 UGA


East: Mary Washington 25-19 Univ South Carolina 
East: Salisbury 53-20 UNC Charlotte


Pacific: Humboldt 52-5 Long Beach State 
Pacific: UN Reno 57-5 Western Oregon


West: Univ Southern Cal 22-20 UC Irvine
West: Fresno State 31-27 UC Riverside


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