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Life University is returning to the D1A National Championship for the fifth year in row after beating BYU in an epic 36-26 victory in Marietta, Ga. In the rematch of the 2012 D1A Semifinal, the clubs went back and forth for the entire match with gaining the upper hand in the second half. With the victory, Life will look to defend its D1A National Championship against familiar foe, Saint Mary’s, in the Moraga, Calif.
Life head coach Scott Lawrence boiled the game down to patience and hustle. “Nothing short of what you'd expect on the day. BYU were dangerous with the ball in hand and came at us physically in defense... BYU's carrier strength and offload ability demanded us work very hard in defense.”
After BYU missed its first chance at points following a penalty, Life seized the opportunity setting the tone with a try. Following a line break that resulted in a held ball, scrumhalf Ryan Rees scored from the back of the subsequent five-meter scrum. Sam Cowley connected on the conversion for the early 7-0 lead.
BYU came right back off the kickoff setting up camp inside Eagle territory. The Cougars bashed against the Life defense until they were awarded a five-meter penalty. Going quick, the forwards pounded the goal line until Jonny Lane finally dotted the ball down for the try. The conversion failed and BYU trailed by two, 7-5
After battling between the 22s, Life got its next shot at points. The Running Eagles pressured inside the 22 and restarted twice with five-meter scrum. The BYU defense held limiting Life to a three-pointer by Cowley to extend to lead to 10-5 with 19 minutes remaining.
BYU countered with their bruising attack and eightman Jackson Kaka scored off a five-meter quick tap. Flyhalf Jared Whippy made the conversion giving the Cougars its first lead of the day, 12-10.
Both clubs had their opportunities to build on their point totals in the last ten minutes of the half. An intentional knock yellow card on BYU’s Josh Whippy opened the door for Life inside the 22. Winning the subsequent scrum, outside center Harley Davidson ran a direct line through two defenders to score under the posts. Cowley tacked on the conversion and the Running Eagles led 17-12 at the half.
In the second half, the squads traded blows back and forth. Life picked up where it left off scoring on its first possession. After getting the ball wide to the wing, Harley Wheeler offloaded to Rees in support for the try. Cowley’s conversion put Life up by 12.
BYU responded in kind with a heavy forwards action at the line. Looking to catch Life napping inside the 22, a tap penalty was stopped at the goal line and a few phases later, captain Ata Elkington just got over the line for the try. Whippy’s conversion cut the lead to five points, 24-19.
Not letting the score affect them, the Running Eagles remained calm and answered with a try on their next possession. With a short lineout to get inside the 10, phase play turned into a try when flyhalf Cody Melphy dummied his opposite number for the score. Cowley was good with the boot, 31-19.
After a water break on a hot day in Georgia, BYU was next on the board. Following a held ball in the endzone, Josh Whippy scored off a switch on the wing. His brother Jared made the conversion and Life was only up by a try with 15 minutes left.
Both squads continued to press with their postseason lives at stake. However, it was Life’s Cowley with the insurance try. With a break up the middle, he kicked ahead and beat out three defenders for the ball in the endzone. Cowley missed the conversion, but extended the lead to 36-26.
With five minutes left, the Life defense was stout repelling a serious attack inside the 22 by BYU. The game ended with BYU threatening, but after a turnover, Life kicked the ball into touch sending the Running Eagles into the D1A National Championship.
Commenting on the match, BYU senior flyhalf Jared Whippy said, “We just couldn’t finish. We would get down there in the 22 and we just didn’t execute as we wanted to. We didn’t execute our set piece the way we wanted to, especially late in the game. We had a missed lineout and scrum that we should have capitalized on. Missed opportunities and poor execution from us.”
“Life is a well drilled team, well coached,” Whippy added. “They were deadly with ball in hand and good runners. They took every opportunity and we just came up short on the day.”
As for the Running Eagles, they know their opponent well in the D1A National Championship. Saint Mary’s offers its unique challenges and Life will have to fly across the country for the match at the Gael’s home field.
When asked what will Life have to do effectively on Saturday, Coach Lawrence replied, “Every game you have to say basics in collegiate rugby because they let teams down so often. Saint Mary's have a high situational awareness IQ and superior basic skill to everyone else in collegiate rugby which is a cornerstone of their consistent success.”
The D1A National Championship will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network on Saturday May 6th at 4pm Pacific.