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Since there is no Frontier Conference representative in Division I, the second place teams from the Red River and Pacific North battled it out in a repechage match in Austin, Texas. The game was a rematch of last year’s National Semifinal between the Austin Blacks and the Life West Gladiators. History did not repeat itself, as Life West was triumphant in a 36-28 victory over the Blacks. With the win, Life West’s championship dreams are still alive as it draws the Pacific South victor, Belmont Shore, in the West National Quarterfinals in Tucson, Ariz. on May 20th.
To get the scoring started the Gladiators used a rolling 20-meter maul to jump out to a 7-0 lead just five minutes into the match. The lead held for the next 15 minutes until Life West scrumhalf Deveraux Ferris recovered a chip and chase for a converted try and the 14-0 lead.
Austin’s Chris Baumann answered back to cut the lead to 14-7, but Life West struck again with a converted try from #13 Moni Tonga’uiha to go back up 21-7. The Blacks’ Adam Armstrong then hit two penalty conversions, but Life West took the momentum at halftime with another try and the 28-13 lead.
Austin tacked on a penalty kick to open the second half, but the Blacks’ defense could not keep Life West out of the try zone as the Gladiators extended the lead to 33-16. With 20 minutes to play, the Blacks struck with a Vincent Jobo try to creep within twelve, 33-21. At 75’, Austin really gave the home crowd something to cheer about by closing the gap to 33-28 with a converted try by Knute O’Donnell. However, with a minute to go, Life West’s #10 Guillame Cazenave hit the decisive penalty kick to put his team up two scores and seal the 36-28 win.
“I think we got our attitudes right,” said Life West coach Adriaan Ferris when asked what sparked the turnaround from last year’s disappointing loss. “We made sure that we focused on attacking the Blacks up front. We knew that we’d have to attack them in certain areas and we did that well. We came out of the gates quickly and were pretty effective in the first half.”
Life West will now face California Cup rival Belmont Shore in the West Quarterfinals. “We know they’re a quality side and that they’re very well coached,” said Ferris. “They have some very big ball carriers in the forward pack and some very hard-working backs. We’ve got to make sure we look after a possession when we have it and make sure we play smart against them. Whatever plan we go into with against Belmont, we want to make sure we stick with it because when we do we can be pretty effective.”