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Life overcame a 15-3 halftime deficit to reclaim the DIA National Championship in Moraga, Calif. The Running Eagles bested St. Mary’s College on its own turf 24-20 to prevent the Gaels from winning its third consecutive title.
The game didn’t start promising for the Running Eagles. In the 7th minute Dylan Audsley slotted a penalty and 10 minutes later Tommy Wallace powered over via a forwards try to take an 8-0 lead.
The problems continued as Cody Melphy missed two shots at goal. St. Mary’s added to its lead midway through the first half. Audsley found a gap out wide off a lineout play and scampered in to increase the lead to 15-0.
Life had some better moments towards the end of the first half. Melphy slotted a penalty and Life was able to get some possession going. Melphy had one more chance at goal right before halftime but missed. The Gaels led 15-3 going into the break.
“It showed we are a young group and I think we just were not composed coming into the game,” said Life coach Scott Lawrence. “Credit to St. Mary’s they noticed two gaps in our defense especially around the 10-13 channel. They exploited those and got us on the back foot in the first half.”
The Running Eagles soared to begin the second half. In a matter of minutes the visitors scored two tries and took a 17-15 lead. The first came off some driving play. Scrumhalf Marcus Walsh backed himself on the first, dummying a pass and diving over a ruck on the goal line to cut the lead to 15-10. Less than a minute later the St. Mary’s backline misjudged an up and under and Harley Davidson was there to grab the ball. The outside center showed tremendous speed, blowing by the last of the St. Mary’s defense for a try under the posts.
“I thought we wanted to turn the tables on the pressure on a little bit so we put the ball up in the air a few more time and got a better chase together, especially with the weather. We thought we could turn the field on them a little bit that way,” added Lawrence.
St. Mary’s responded almost immediately. The Gaels put pressure on the Georgia side, backing them deep into its own 22. Life overthrew a lineout on the five-meter line and number 8 Vilamni Helu scooped up the loose ball. The big forward took one step and dove in to retake the lead at 20-17.
Life retook the lead for good in the 65th minute. Off a line out the Running Eagles displayed just how good they can be. The Running Eagles showed patience in attack, swinging the ball side to side and grinding the St. Mary’s defense down. After 17 phases, Alex Maughan capped off the great sequence by diving over from a few meters out. With 15 minutes to play, Life led 24-20.
“I think we just talked about being more direct and that time it just wasn’t overly complicated. We just got our carries in and got our support there at the right time,” Lawrence said of the game winning score.
The Running Eagles kept St. Mary’s at bay for the rest of the game. The Gael’s played much of the final 15 minutes in its own territory. The final sequence of the game saw St. Mary’s attacking inside Life territory but a knock ended any chances of stealing a win at the death.
Life has now captured two out of the last four DIA National Championship, sandwiching two St. Mary’s titles in between. After losing in their own backyard last year, the Running Eagles got revenge winning on the campus of St. Mary’s.
“It is great. They are just fantastic. They have a great fan base. Their program puts out a great team every year so we really enjoyed the game,” Lawrence said of St. Mary’s. “I am just really pleased for our young men. I think that’s the biggest thing that they got to go out and play on such a beautiful campus with such a big crowd, and we were lucky enough to get the win,” Lawrence concluded.