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Kutztown and Life put on a spectacular show in the second semifinal of the Collegiate Rugby Championship Sunday at PPL Park in Philadelphia, Pa. The Golden Bears fell behind two scores late in the second half, but made the plays when it counted.
Kutztown had the first combination of territory and possession after kicking for touch off an early penalty, but the Running Eagles turned the ball over in a ruck and went nearly 80 meters for the score, with Paris Hollis dotting down the opening try.
Life was aggressive in defensive rucks early on, and the referee determined too aggressive. The penalty trouble helped Kutztown get on the board, as the Golden Bears again kicked for territory, and this time mauled in behind the massive wall that is Mike Lawrenson. Niku Kruger had the ball at the back of the scrum and dove over for the try. He then slotted the difficult sideline conversion to put KU up 7-5.
“We thought if we catch them off guard, especially at the end of the half when they’re tired, we’ll push them over before they even know it,” Lawrenson said of the decision to go for the lineout.
Life caught its break when the ref appeared to miss a knock-on from Harley Davidson that resulted in a Blaine McIlroy try to end the half. Joe Cowley slotted the conversion, putting Life up 12-7.
The Running Eagle lead was extended to two scores right at the onset of the second half when Hiko Malu took a gap for a try to put Life up 17-7.
With about three minutes to play, Kutztown was running out of time, but had possession and patience.
“Navy made a big come back on them. We noticed our fitness is a little better than theirs,” said Lawrenson. “So we said, at the end of the game, no matter what the score is, we’re going to play 20 minutes. We’re going to play our hearts out the whole time, and our system worked; getting the ball out wide, a few skip passes, and we found the hole.”
Lawrenson set up the first of two back-to-back scores in the second half, when his team needed it the most. He threw two vicious stiff arms to create an overload and passed to Kruger, who found Dolan in space for the try. Kruger converted, pulling the Golden Bears to within three at 17-14 with about a minute to play.
“I play in the All Americans with a lot of the Life guys, and there are a lot of personal, not vendettas, but challenges between friends,” said Lawrenson. “And when I saw them there, I said, 'I’m going to hear it for years to come if they make a big hit on me.’ I throw the stiff arms harder when we get in that 22. It’s the red zone. Everything goes red and I just want to get it.”
KU won the all-important restart and drove to near the attacking 22-meter line. Life pressured hard in a ruck near the sideline, but some impressive power from reserve Duke Makina staved the Running Eagles off and allowed Kruger to pluck the ball from the pile and go weak for the game-winning try.
Life’s Jake Anderson had a clean shot at the ensuing restart, with the Miller minute* leaving 25 seconds on the clock, but he knocked on. KU won the scrum at the death and cleared to touch.
*Miller minute is the rule adapted for just the CRC that sees the clock stop after a score in the final minute of the game.