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Saint Mary’s and Life both handily won its respective semifinal matches to cruise into the DIA national championship. It will be the fourth consecutive year that the northern California school will meet the tiny university from Georgia in the final.
Life defeated Big South rival Lindenwood 41-7 to earn a ticket to the final. It was the third time the Running Eagles have beaten the Lions this season.
The Running Eagles jumped out to a 21-0 lead thanks a counter attack and intercept try. Cody Melphy converted both scores and Marcus Walsh dotted down under the posts to extend the lead to 21-0.
Lindenwood got a forward’s try to cut into the lead and was looking to make it a one score game. The Lions coughed up the ball deep in Life territory. After kicking out of trouble, the Running Eagles earned a penalty to go into the break 24-7.
Melphy took over the game in the second half, scoring two tries. The former Glendale player did well in his first ever game at flyhalf, netting 29 points on the afternoon.
“I think the guys picked their moments, and in a game like that sustain pressure for 80 minutes that was a positive for us today,” said Life coach Scott Lawrence. “Lindenwood are a really destructive team defensively and around the breakdown. I thought we locked that down pretty well and kept good continuity.”
In the other end of the bracket, St. Mary’s overcame some first half adversity to win comfortably over Utah 81-32. The Gaels led 31-18 at half but exploded for 50 points in the second half to run away with the victory.
The Gaels had trouble at the breakdown in the first half. The home side had to adapt to this particular referee’s style, eventually choosing not to contest rucks. That was not before, however, several penalties that resulted in two Utah kicks at goal and a 6-0 deficit.
The Gaels bounced back, however, scoring five first half tries from five different players. Prop Dino Waldren scored his first of three on the afternoon to get the Gaels going. Utah, though, scored two more times in the first half to keep the game competitive.
“Utah did a very good job of maintaining possessions…They had long durations possessions. They are known for this. They can dominate possession and they will put you trough many many phases. They had a nice game plan. They did well in the first half,” said Saint Mary’s coach Tim O’Brien.
Saint Mary’s quelled any chance of a comeback early in the half. Despite giving up a couple of tries and receiving a couple of yellow cards, the home side added 50 points to book its fourth consecutive trip to the DIA final.
“We brought substitute guys and I think our substitutes had a little bit bigger impact than theirs. We had a lot more duration of possessions,” O’Brien added.
Saint Mary’s will host Life in the national championship next weekend. After traveling to Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Georgia last year, the Gaels are excited but not complacent to play in front of a home crowd.
“It is nice to be at home but at the end of the day we are playing against as professional of an outfit that we have in the country,” O’Brien said of Life. “…It doesn’t matter if you are home away or whatever. Away can be more to your benefit sometimes in terms of there is no distractions.”
Life has experience traveling to play on the West coast after matching up with Saint Mary’s two years ago at Stanford. The Running Eagles lost that matchup and expect this game to be as tough a test.
“Their fan base and the entire atmosphere is fantastic and we enjoyed every minute of it. They are very supportive on their campus and are going to come out in numbers to push Saint Mary’s forward,” Lawrence added.
Although the teams have met in the last three DIA finals, neither of the squads views this game as a rivalry. Both coaches indicated that the geography, player turnover and arduous schedules throughout the year never allow either of their teams to look too far ahead to this matchup.
“I do not think it is a rivalry but it is a heightened awareness. You are going against the absolute best in the business so you better bring your A game,” said O”Brien.
Lawrence added similar sentiments.
“We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it,” Lawrence said of the matchup with the Gaels. “I think we enjoy playing them in the final. They are a good team. They are always really well skilled….It is one game a year and it’s the final. We have a lot to go through by the time we get there. Ideally we just want to play well.”