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BYU defeated Arkansas State 49-42 in a brilliant, energizing D1-A championship match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, Saturday.

Playing in his final game for BYU, Shaun Davies scored 24 points, while Mikey Su’a was awesome.

In front of about 8,733 fans, BYU opened the game to a huge roar, but it was Arkansas State that started playing the rugby early. The Red Wolves kicked to the corner to put BYU under pressure.

A sloppy lineout allowed ASU to take the ball, and after a couple of bashes to the gain line, referee Arun Ranaweera blew his whistle for in from the side.

Despite loud hoots and whistles from the crowd, Arkansas State flyhalf Pat Sullivan calmly slotted the 35-meter kick.

BYU seemed flustered after that opening salvo, and put themselves under the kosh with a mistake from a 22 dropout – kicking the ball directly into touch and giving the Red Wolves a scrum in the middle of the pitch at the BYU 22 meter line. Hands out and quickly to the center Dean Gericke. Sliding in to make the tackle BYU flyhalf Dylan Lubbe missed, but took out the touch judge. The assistant ref was able to keep his eye on Gericke’s feet, though, as they tiptoed next to the sideline. Gericke stretched as he was hit and scored in the corner. Six minutes gone and ASU led 8-0.

Hardly having any time to touch the ball BYU kicked off again, and battled an ASU maul. The Red Wolves were guilty of obstruction, though, and the Cougars now had a shot at points. Scrumhalf Shaun Davies no problem with the 26-meter kick. 8-3 ASU with eight minutes gone.

That seemed to give BYU a little life. Certainly captain and No.8  Ryan Roundy was ready – he thundered ahead after getting the restart, and big surges from Mikey Su’a and Roundy again put the Cougars into the game.

More running from Su’a and then Ray Forrester produced wild cheers from the crowd, and when ASU was penalized, and then didn’t get back ten on the quick tap, they were lucky not to get a yellow card. Finally flanker Kumi Tua’one picked up from the base of the ruck and dragged three ASU defenders with him over the line. The conversion just missed (and just missed getting charged down), and the game was tied 8-8.

The Red Wolves were unable to take advantage of a small scoring chance after that. From a lineout that BYU won, the ball rolled loose.  An ASU player kicked ahead but he fell to the ground and the ball rolled dead. That meant a scrum to BYU, and a moment of magic. Davies broke from the scrum and linked up with Hoseki Kofe. The center cantered to midfield, passed to Davie, who then offloaded to center Paul Lasike. The big runner shrugged off one tackle, and just as he seemed to be in, passed to fullback Tue Laei for a brilliant score. Davie whacked over the conversion, and BYU had their first lead, 15-8.

The game remained a stupendous battle at the breakdown. Both teams were determined to contest every tackle, resulting in several moments of contact, and not a few penalties. Just such a penalty gave ASU a lineout five meters form the BYU line. After some rugged work in tight the Red Wolves spun it wide, and after the second phase a lovely long pass from Yoshyiasu Abe to Sullivan allowed the flyhalf to put center Zac Mizell through the tiniest of holes. He stretched to score, and Sullivan’s kick tied the game again.

The message was clear, there would be no uncontested coronation in Utah.

Arkansas State mounted another attack through Mizell, and the center had support at midfield, but opted for the kick. He was hit late by Hynie Leaaetoa, leaving both players writhing on the ground. Both got up, though, and Sullivan lined up the resulting penalty … and missed.

ASU was back at it again, with Mizell the key danger man. The Cougars turned the ball over and in a blink were 60 meters downfield. Only a desperate tackle from flanker Sean Paterson saved ASU from disaster.

BYU, though, were confident, and slowly worked their way upfield. A half break from Tua’one allowed Davies to appear on his hip, and the scrumhalf took the ball and scampered in under the posts. His conversion made it 22-15 BYU with six minutes left in the first half.

And then it was 29-15. From a scrum with a big weak side BYU went weak, put Laei into the line, and the fullback raced 30 meters before offloading to wing Will Taylor to finish it off. Davies his the difficult conversion to give his side a 14-point advantage.

That was how the half ended. A long, burly run from Roundy didn’t quite get there, and when they got the ball back, the Red Wolves were content to kick for touch.

The second half started much as the first half did, with Arkansas State playing the rugby, and BYU defending and waiting for their chance. And once again, BYU committed a penalty in the ruck. No problem for Sullivan and that made it 29-18.

But BYU replied. After an infraction at the lineout gave the Cougars a free kick, they moved quickly, go up the gut then around the waist. Flyhalf Dylan Lubbe made the key break, and probably could have flown in untouched. Instead, he passed to Lasike, who curled around to touch down near the posts.  Davies added the conversion and BYU led 36-18.

The Red Wolves continued to pressure effectively from the restarts, and earned a penalty for their pains. They didn’t go for the kick this time, and after a few more penalties against BYU, got the ball to Sullivan, who wriggled through two tacklers to just get over the line. With 54 minutes gone this was still a highly competitive, and tense, game 36-23 BYU led.

Davies slotted a penalty moments later to give BYU a three-score lead 39-23.

After that, the game was stopped for a considerable time after Hoseki Kofe was injured. The paramedics stabilized the center and took him off on a stretcher. Kofe raised his arm in acknowledgment of the crowd’s applause, and got a massive cheer in response.

A BYU try to send Kofe off seemed inevitable, and it came from a crowd-pleasing source. Mikey Su’a got the game going again with a massive stiff-arm and run, and finished it with the same, stretching a meaty arm, with ball in hand, to the line.

Davies hit the conversion, and BYU led 46-23.

Arkansas State had a chance to fold their tent then, but didn’t. Again from the restart they pressured, and after a free kick Zac Mizell juggled and retained a pass from Abe, spun from a tackler’s grasp and was over. Sullivan’s kick was no good, his third missed conversion of the day, to make it 46-28.

And ASU was back there again. Gericke burst through after the restart, and almost scored in the left corner. BYU penalty, lineout ASU, and then hands out to Dale Bates who cut back brilliantly to touch down under the posts. Ten minutes to go, 46-35. Still a ballgame.

And it was almost a closer ballgame. ASU got a kickable penalty, which they decided to use for a lineout. Sullivan, however, booted the kick to touch too far, and it sailed dead, giving BYU a scrum. That’s all they needed to mount a rush upfield, carried mostly by Roundy and Su’a. Lasike looked clear to score, but was just hauled down, but a penalty was easy pickings for Davies. 49-35.

Enough time for two tries for ASU? It seemed no. They got one. Flanker Paul Benade burst through, was knocked down, but got up to go under the posts. Sullivan’s kick was good, and it was just reward for Arkansas State who had given fans such a terrific game. But time was up, the whistle went, and BYU were champs, 49-42.

BYU 49
Tries: Tua’one, Laei, Davies, Taylor, Lasike, Su’a
Convs: Davies 5
Pens: Davies 3

Arkansas State 42
Tries: Gericke, Mizell 2, Bates, Sullivan
Convs: Sullivan 2
Pens: Sullivan 2