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Life University held off a determined Lindenwood University to win a crucial Mid-South Conference clash 21-17 Saturday at Life.
The game was played in a little rain, and the rain from the previous day made the field a little muddy, and produced more than a few mistakes.
"Yeah we tried very hard to be not as crisp as we should have," joked Life Head Coach Dan Payne. "I don't think the conditions contributed to it. I think it was our play. They bring a lot of good players and a great approach and we're fortunate to get out of here with a W."
The game was a huge battle in the rucks and through most of the first half Lindenwood were more successful in that area, getting very low, and poaching ball or forcing penalties. Mike Gierlach at lock led the defensive effort, and his opposite number for Life, second row Jake Anderson, was also a stalwart.
Lfe began the game camped out in the Lindenwood end, but little knock-ons contributed to them being unable to punch in a try. Eventually, Lindenwood lifted the siege, and pressed. The Lindenwood midfield with James Poli leading the way swarmed the Life backs and hit very hard. Eventually that approach produced a penalty attempt for fullback Lunaile Tshuma, and he slotted the goal to put Lindenwood up 3-0.
It wasn't until 20 minutes in that Life leveled the scores. Life Fullback Joe Cowley sent a penalty kick sailing over.
Life flyhalf Blane McIlroy was the first to really break through Lindenwood's immense defense, and he almost made it to the line on one occasion, only for the follow-up from the Life forwards to nudge the ball forward.
With the ball a little wet, the teams looked to kick more, and both teams made errors in fielding the ball, but Life made more, and seemed more likely to kick directly to Lindenwood defenders. However, the next score still came from the Running Eagles. McIlroy once again sliced through, and then the forwards consolidated, allowing No. 8 Glen Maricelli, usually a hooker, picking and diving over. Cowley was good with the kick and Life led 10-3.
That's how the half ended, and things looked very bad for Lindenwood early in the second half when wing Kolton Nelson was guilty of a rather bad tip tackle on a player who had already passed the ball.
"I knew as soon as I saw it that it would be a red card," lamented Lindenwood Head Coach J.D. Stephenson, who had no argument with the call. "We just had to come together and deal with it."
Cowley slotted three points from that penalty, but Lindenwood held on.
"The nickname of Lindenwood is the Lions, and we talk about protecting the pride," said Poli. "So that's what we did. We protected the pride. We couldn't do anything about being down to 14, so we just had to play."
Still, Life pressed their advantage. A grubber ahead for Cowley on the wing was a 50-50 for Cowley or the Lindenwood defense. But Cowley put a boot to the rolling ball to nudge it in-goal and then dive onto the ball for a try and an 18-3 lead.
Stephenson said that at point his players seemed to run out of steam, but the injection of some subs helped pick up the Lions' game.
First a goofy mistake on a box kick by Life allowed sub scrumhalf Mickey Bateman to race in untouched. Tshuma slotted the conversion to make it 18-10. Tshuma would miss a penalty late, but then as the game approached full time, the fullback combined with several players in a nice series of offloads to put sub prop Marshall Godfrey in for the try.
That made it 18-17. Life did well to keep the ball and get a penalty, which Cowley put over - that movement was all started by a penalty by Lindenwood on the restart - a mistake they didn't need to make.
That's how it ended, 21-17.
"Every time you come here to Marietta, Ga you know you're in for an absolute slobberknocker of a game," said Lindenwood's Stephenson. "Joe Cowley did a great job controlling the tempo of the. But we almost pulled it out in the end with 14 men."