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The cup semifinals in the 2017 Las Vegas Invitational College Rugby Championships Qualifier consisted of a blowout and nail-biter. In the first semifinal between #1 Lindenwood and #5 Notre Dame College, the Lions trounced the Falcons, 40-0. For the #2 Central Washington and #3 Clemson match, two first half yellow cards by the Wildcats allowed the Tigers to build a lead that CWU could not recover from, 19-17.
Lindenwood has been dominant all tournament long and showed its strength and skill in the cup semifinal against Notre Dame College. NDC was ready and fit, but the match was all Lions and shocked last year’s LVI cup finalist. Lindenwood was fearsome on offense scoring six tries and shutting out the Falcons.
When talking to Rugby Today about the keys to the victory, Lindenwood head coach Josh Macy said, “We kept the ball away from them, they couldn’t score if we kept it away for them... It was staying patient until you see your opportunity. They don’t score on your five-meter line, they score in your tryzone. I was really happy with how they stayed patient. It’s a simple game and it’s nice to see the guys take their chances and support each other well. That’s why we are winning.”
After NDC’s kickoff didn’t go ten meters, it got a second chance with a lineout. NDC looked to get started with precision passing and phase work, but a turnover on the wing ended its progress. Lindenwood’s Mickey Bateman picked up the ball and returned it to the house for the try. Nick Feakes chipped in the try for the early 7-0 lead.
The Lions continued its attack on the restart stealing the ball from the clutches of NDC. The ball wound up in the hands of Michael Baska who dummied the defender for the try. Feakes added the points after and then split the gap along the sideline for a 70-meter try just before the half. Lindenwood led, 21-0.
To start the second half, Lindenwood won possession of the ball and battled outside the 22. The Lions tested the NDC defense for weakness and Sam Chapman found space for a try. Lindenwood continued to press and after a grubber created a five-meter penalty, persistence paid off for the Lions as Feakes scored his second in the corner.
In the last minutes, Lindenwood stepped up the defense hoping for the goose egg. Following a quick tap penalty, capped Eagle Deion Mikesell hammered in the final nail in the coffin for the Lions to advance to the cup final, 40-0.
In the second semifinal, the match between Central Washington and Clemson was a close affair that was decided by a final conversion attempt at the buzzer. Despite incurring two first half cards, CWU battled back in the second half after being down 19-0 at the break. The Wildcats scored three tries in the second half but missed two conversions including the last one at the buzzer to force overtime. Clemson survived to win 19-17 and will face Lindenwood on Saturday.
The first half was vital to Clemson’s victory and head coach Steve Lynch said, “We retained possession well and were very patient with ball in hand, especially at the start of the game. We frustrated them that led to a couple of yellow cards. They were working hard and getting tired and we were able to retain possession for a long five of first seven minutes of the game. That’s why we were winning at the half because we starved them of possession.”
CWU’s kickoff was deep and the Wildcat defense kept Clemson in check early in the match. A yellow card to CWU’s Vili Taluta’u for a late shoulder charge created an opportunity for Clemson to score. On the attack, the Tigers’ James Rogers ran across the field for the try and Nick Richards added the conversion for the 7-0 tally.
Even though CWU returned to full strength, Clemson used its momentum as the Tigers turned a CWU miscue into points as Jason Damm offloaded to Drew Dommel for the try. Unfortunately for CWU, Ian Wright was yellow carded for a late hit on the try. Clemson took advantage as captain Dylan Goulding added to the point total before the half to lead 19-0.
With both teams at full strength to begin the second half, CWU knew it had to stay sharp to get back into the match. The comeback started on the opening kickoff as the Wildcats’ Dom Lindstrom took the kick back for the try. The conversion missed, but CWU was in the game, 19-5. Lindstrom was active again looking to score his second try but was forced out of bounds.
CWU’s fortunes brightened as Clemson was penalized with a yellow card. With the man advantage, Cole Zarcone and his nifty footwork found a gap in the defense for the try. The conversion was good and the Wildcats trailed by seven points with limited time left.
CWU continued to press while Clemson brought in defensive reserves to shore up its line with fresh legs. The Wildcats attempted to wear out the Tiger defense going sideline to sideline and finally, Zarcone scored in the corner. Wright’s conversion was wide and the referee blew the final whistle sending Clemson to the cup final, 19-17.
Lynch has seen his club mature throughout the entire event. “All 12 twelve guys played every match... We used all of our subs and we had very little drop-off. I think that is a testament to our guys and how hard they work for each other.”
“At the end, the reason why we win that match and they don’t tie it up is because we had three guys (Drew Dommel, Joel Jaldin, and Hunter Dawsey) working hard across that pitch to tie him up in the corner and make that conversion tough,” Lynch added. “They had the awareness, they knew what they wanted to do, and they worked hard for each other.”
Coaches Macy and Lynch know each other well and are friends off the pitch, but they will be foes tomorrow. The last time Lindenwood and Clemson met in 7s was last year at the Red Bull 7s where Lions blasted the Tigers, 43-0. Clemson wasn’t ready at that time, but are a force now.
Clemson will be prepared for Lindenwood, but it also knows the type of team it will be competing against. “Their skills, patience, fitness are there. [Lindenwood] attacks the ball well in the air. All the things we’re trying to be. As a competitor week in and week out in the Mid-South, we are trying to match them and be as good as they are. In 7s, anything can happen. If we can match them in those areas: the aerial, fitness, carrying, and skills, we will put some pressure on them.”
Macy gave his thoughts about Clemson saying, “As a team, they play very much inside their skin. [Clemson] knows who they are and they have a good plan and they play it. They don’t try to do anything else. They are physical on the edges of the field, they are steady handling and they make their tackles. We are a really athletic team and handle the ball really well. We have to move them around, tire them out, and hopefully score some points.”
The cup final between Lindenwood and Clemson is at 10:12 am inside Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday.