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For the last three years, the D1A National Championship has came down to the same two teams, No. 3 Life University and No. 4 Saint Mary’s College of California. The Running Eagles won the 2013 edition, 16-14, and SMC took last year’s game, 21-6. The 2015 match at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta would not disappoint, as the game came down to the last play with the Gaels winning their second-straight itle beating Life, 30-24.
Behind 20 total points (1 try, 3 PKs, and 3 conversions), flyhalf Dylan Audesley was awarded the Most Valuable Player of the game.
On Life’s second possession two minutes into the game, the Running Eagles attacked with phase ball forcing the Gaels into a penalty. Flyhalf Blane McIlroy got Life onto the board first connecting on the kick from 25 meters out for the 3-0 lead.
Both teams started feeling each other out with the defenses causing penalties and turnovers on a hot day with temperatures reaching the 90s. SMC inside center Dylan Audesley had an opportunity in the ninth minute to even the score, but he missed a penalty kick after Life was called for diving over.
Audsley made up for the miss eight minutes later when he scored as a forward ball was passed to Kingsley McGowan. The flyhalf sucked in three defenders dishing to Audsley, who touched the ball down under the posts. With the conversion, the Gaels took the 7-3 lead.
After a 20 meter line break by Cooper Maloney, Audsley set up another penalty kick following an offsides by Life. The kick was good and SMC extended their lead to 10-3.
After a water break, SMC came out aggressive on defense stifling Life’s chances to score. The Gaels’ defense would not hold for long as the Running Eagles got the ball inside the 22 with a sustained multi-phase attack. After pounding inside with forwards, inside center Mark Gribben fought through three defenders to slam the ball down for the try. McIlroy tacked on the conversion to tie the game at 10-10.
Unfortunately for the Running Eagles, their momentum off the try was quashed when scrumhalf Marcus Walsh was yellow carded for repeated infringement. The Gaels took advantage immediately with a penalty kick by Audsley after the card to go up 13-10.
Even though they were down a player, the Running Eagles kept pressing, but the SMC’s defense and scrum held. Things got worse for Life in the 39th minute when their captain Jake Anderson was yellow carded for not being back ten on a penalty. The Gaels were unable to do anything with the two-man advantage in the final minute of the half and went into intermission leading 13-10.
At the start of the second half, Life killed off the last minutes of Walsh’s yellow card, but SMC got deep into Life territory after a shoulder charge on an Audsley downfield kick. With SMC lined up for a five-meter scrum, the Gaels’ forward pack pushed Life back and eightman Kevin O’Connor stretched over for his club’s second try. The subsequent kick was good for the 20-10 lead.
Once back to full strength, the momentum started to shift to Life as they played with renewed intensity. At the 50th minute, Life forced a penalty inside the SMC’s 22. The Running Eagles used a driving maul from ten meters out where eightman Glen Maricelli inched Life closer to the lead at 20-17, SMC.
With Life determined to keep up the energy, the Gaels snuffed it out with a quick counterattack try. Life pop kicked the ball downfield and SMC gained possession after a jump ball. The ball was passed to Audsley who sprinted 35 meters and offloaded to McGowan in support for the try. Audsley connected on the conversion to increase the lead to 27-17.
The Running Eagles came right back in the 65th minute when the ball was skipped out to wing Zander Van Schalkwyk, who pop kicked inside the 22. Prop Xander Daniels recovered the ball and carried two defenders into the tryzone for the score. McIlroy’s conversion was successful to cut the lead to three points, 27-24.
Three minutes later, SMC systematically moved the ball down field with fluid passing and tough forward play forcing Life into a penalty. Audsley again was good with a penalty kick for his 20th point of the match to improve the score to 30-24.
With 10 minutes left, Life unluckily lost wing Tyrus Baytops to injury, he collided heads with his fullback, but the Running Eagles would not give up. They battled on SMC’s half of the field for the remainder of the game. Life had multiple opportunities to score in those final minutes, but the Gaels defense was stout.
On the final play of the game, Life had a five-meter scrum and the forwards fought frantically get the try. SMC’s defense came through, stole the ball, and Audsley kicked the ball out of bounds. The final whistle was paused as the referee checked the video for an infraction on the last play, but after finding no evidence of a knock-on, the sir called the match dead.