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With a 37-20 epic victory over Lindenwood in the D1A Quarterfinals, Life University returns the semifinals for the fifth consecutive year. Three tries in the first half gave the Running Eagles a 26-6 halftime lead, but a solid Lions attack made Life work in the second half for the win. Life and its undefeated record now welcome BYU to Marietta, Ga. on Saturday for its toughest test yet.
“It was a solid contest, physical,” Life head coach Scott Lawrence said. “[On offense,] building pressure through continuity [was key]. It was a blessing in disguise to play extended periods of defense in the second half as we needed that... When we decided our spacing, we played well defensively.”
In Marietta, Ga., the Running Eagles were first to strike five minutes in the match when Harley Wheeler scored off a scrum for the 5-0 lead. Brian Muntanga followed his teammate into the try zone soon after to extend the advantage to 12-0. Lindenwood’s Nick Feakes got the Lions on the board with a penalty three minutes later to cut the deficit to nine points.
An unfortunate yellow card to Lindenwood opened the door to Cody Melphy for a well-earned forwards try. The Lions attempted to make a dent into the tally with a try of their own, but settled for another penalty by Feakes. Life had the last shot in the half as big Wheeler hit on defense turned into points for Alex McDonald after the turnover. At intermission, Life led 26-6.
Coming out the break, Life started how they ended the first half. After a blistering run by Mikie Islava, Jamie Berrisford took the offload for the unconverted try. Determined to never give up, Lindenwood responded with its first try as Jeremy Leber scored on a pick and go.
As the half progressed, each side picked up the intensity. With less than 15 minutes left, a yellow card to Life opened an opportunity for Lindenwood to get back into the game. However, the Running Eagles’ defense clamped down, while adding a penalty to increase the lead to 34-13.
With less than five minutes remaining, Lindenwood’s Feakes punched in a try to make the score 34-20, but a final Life penalty by Melphy sealed the win and entrance to the semifinals.
Lindenwood head coach Josh Macy said that his team was slow to start the match, but was impressed how they were energized in the second half. “Had we been able to settle into the game better at the beginning, I think we would have better enjoyed the outcome. I was proud of the guys for standing tall the rest of the game, but we hurt ourselves there.”
“I was proud of how we played in the second half,” Macy added. “It's interesting to see Life's composure change when they are under pressure. It definitely gave us confidence. We came out a little too squirrelly and the Running Eagles did a great job capitalizing. It's tough to play down against a great team.”
After playing Life already twice this season, Lindenwood knew the task that was ahead of them. “It was a physical, tough game as always,” Nick Feakes said. “You can’t afford to give a classy outfit like Life University a 20 point halftime lead. At the end of the day, our defense wasn't up to standard and they punished us. We tried very hard, but rugby is about more than trying hard. I'm proud of the boys for all the hard-work, and effort they have put in through out this season.”
With the quarterfinals behind it, the only obstacle left before the D1A Finals for Life is BYU on Saturday. “We know BYU has been in form and dominant in collegiate play as of late,” Lawrence remarked. “We expect them to be what they are, a very good team that sees the field and takes their opportunities well. We'll just play the game with the men built here. If that's good enough, that's what it is.”