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Life clinched the Mid-South Conference championship with a 23-17 win over Arkansas State in Jonesboro, Ark. Saturday. There were four lead changes in the contest, with Life forcing the last one with a Glen Maricelli try inside the final 10 minutes.
“These are great games that always come down to the end. The effort from both teams was pretty admirable,” Life coach Dan Payne said.
Arkansas State got on the board first with an Emilio Betanzo penalty. The Chilean freshman slotted seven points with his boot in his varsity debut.
“With the way injuries have been going, we’ve had to make changes and move guys around,” said Arkansas State coach NeMani Delabaitiki. “He’s one of the guys we trusted to start at fullback, a crucial position, and today he proved he was ready.”
Life’s Joe Cowley leveled the table with a penalty of his own, and then lock Jake Anderson punched in the game’s first try shortly after a lineout, putting the Running Eagles up 10-3 following Cowley’s conversion.
“Jake Anderson played a great game,” said Payne. “When he gets good go-forward ball, he’s got a great center of gravity. He just had a break. The ball came back to him, and he just kept rumbling.”
Another Cowley penalty extended the Life lead to 13-3 going into halftime.
ASU opened the second half with a try from prop Kudakwashe Makuvire following a long Red Wolves possession. Betanzo converted, pulling ASU within three at 13-10.
Cowley then added his third penalty of the day to push the lead to six, but ASU ran in a second try with about 17 minutes to play. The converted score saw the Red Wolves take a 17-16 lead that wouldn’t last.
With about eight minutes left to play, Life secured ball at an attacking lineout, Anderson charged toward the try line and offloaded to Marcielli, who scampered a short distance for the game winner. Cowley converted the try, putting Life up 23-17.
Arkansas State went on the offensive and had a lineout about 30 meters from pay dirt, but Life stole the ball and ended the Red Wolves’ late threat to regain the lead.
The win guarantees Life a conference championship with one week left in league play and gives the Running Eagles an unprecedented fourth-straight win over their rivals. Life makes the long trek to Grand Rapids, Mich. to face winless Davenport next weekend, while Arkansas State needs a tie or a win at Lindenwood in St. Charles, Mo. to finish in second place.