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Defending 7s National Champs Arkansas State punched their ticket to this year’s championships by winning the South Independent 7s qualifier Sunday in Atlanta. The Red Wolves beat Middle Tennessee State 33-5 in the semifinal before taking down Life 24-19 in the final. The Running Eagles beat South Florida 46-0 in the other semifinal.

In the final, Arkansas State stretched the field to beat a more physical Life team 24-19.

“I think our guys are learning to use the whole field. That seemed to work against Life,” said Arkansas State coach Matt Huckaby. “They've got a big ‘ole physical team. You don't want to be caught in the middle of the field with them.”

Zinzan Elan-Putick opened the final with a pair of tries, and when Life was charging back in the second half, Tom Haussrer had a huge intercept try that helped Arkansas State hold onto the lead.

Life had beaten Arkansas State by just a try in the previous two South Independent tournaments, so Sunday’s resulted in ASU’s first conference 7s title. With the win, ASU claims an automatic bid to USA Rugby’s 7s National Championships Nov. 23-24 in Greensboro, NC.

Though the Red Wolves are a much different team from last year, with three 7s All Americans either injured or moved on, they’re really good.

“This team is as good as last years. [We’re] building on prior years. The experience is showing,” said Huckaby. “It's amazing to watch these young guys step up.”