Illinois holds back surging Minnesota in close fought game, 22-17

D1A Rugby: Illinois holds back surging Minnesota in close fought game, 22-17
Photo Credit: GopherRugby

Both Illinois and Minnesota approached their fourth match of the year 1-2 and with ambitions to start winning streaks that would guarantee them winning records. The Gophers started the match slow at home, conceding a converted second-minute penalty to Illinois fly-half, Thomas Love. Love’s kicking this year has been a crucial source of points for the Fighting Illini this year.

Illinois continued to apply the pressure by punching in two tries through the back line. Outside center Kristian Lauszus’ and winger Jonathan Toriumi’s 5th and 20th minute tries were converted by Thomas Love’s sure kicking foot, making the score 17-0. Lauszus worked to score a second try in the 45th minute, a try that would prove to be very crucial.

The Gophers mounted an impressive comeback, scoring late in the first half and twice in the second half, cutting Illinois’ margin to just five points in the 70th minute. Minnesota started to get into a rhythm in the second half, working three crash balls through the center of the field and then swinging the ball wide to attack with their play makers. This second half adjustment by the Gophers allowed them to regain a foothold on their home field. However, the resilient tries of Isaiah Floyd, Ty Leeche and Gabe Cesarini were not enough to best Lauszus’s second try. The final score in Minneapolis: Illinois 22, Minnesota 17.

Minnesota, now 1-3, will finish their season against Purdue and then Iowa. After this victory, Illinois at 2-2 will go on to face Michigan and Purdue. In the 2015 regular season, Illinois finished 2-4 and Minnesota 1-5. Both teams are poised to drastically improve their records this year through the end of the 2016 campaign.