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With the score knotted at 25-25 in the waning moments of the game, No. 3 Life’s flyhalf, Blaine McIlroy, set up the game-winning penalty kick. Eighth-ranked Davenport could only watch as the shot from 35 meters out sailed through the uprights for the three-point Life victory, 28-25, in Marietta, Ga.
“We made a few mistakes early in the game,” Life head coach Tui Osbourne stated. “It was try back and forth, but we made lot of mistakes and conceded a lot of penalties in the first 15-20 minutes, which was pretty bad on our part. To be fair, Davenport is a good team and they played us well. It was anybody’s game. We were fortunate enough to get that last penalty and we made that conversion to make it 28-25, but it was anybody’s game.”
The Running Eagles took the early 7-0 lead following a try by scrumhalf Marcus Walsh, who dashed into a gap after dummying the forwards, and a subsequent conversion by McIlroy. Davenport responded when fullback Brady Gent found a gap from the backline and tied it with a conversion by flyhalf JP Eloff. Life flanker Fotukava Malu scored the first of his two tries next for Life off a driving maul, which was converted by McIlroy, for the 14-7 advantage.
Eloff would score the next ten points and take the lead for the Panthers from a penalty kick and a try from the backline at the 28th minute. Four minutes later, Malu scored again off a driving maul for the slim 19-17 Life lead. Three minutes before the half, Davenport would have the last word with a lineout maul that rolled where lock Willy Urena powered over for a try and a 22-19 Panther margin.
The second half proved to be different than the first with use of strategic kicking and an emphasis on game fitness and team defense. Featuring four penalty kicks and no tries, the match wouldn’t be decided until the last moment of play. With two penalty kicks by McIlroy, Life retook the lead by three points, 25-22. At the 57th minute, Davenport’s Eloff squared the score at 25-25, and the defenses dug deep for the rest of the game.
In the last three minutes of the contest, possession went back and forth resulting in a penalty for Life. The Running Eagles kicked for touch and played the remainder of the game in Davenport’s half. The Panthers unfortunately conceded a penalty within the range of Life’s kicker. McIlroy’s boot was from about 35 meters away on the 15 and his aim was true. Life was victorious in front of their home crowd, 28-25.
“In the first half, we weren’t playing together and some people were playing off page,” Osbourne said commenting on his club’s play. “We weren’t converting our breaks and we weren’t taking care of the ball. Second half, we told them to take care of the ball and manage the game better. If we are in range for kicking, let’s take the points. Both teams did that after the half knowing it was going to be a battle.”
“Davenport played well. They made good breaks and they made good progress in their attack. To be fair, they came to play and they played us well. It was anyone’s game in that last few minutes.”
Asked his thoughts on the match, Davenport head coach James Wood stated, “If I had to describe the game, it would be an 80-minute war. It was back and forth. I thought we played well, minus the first 20 minutes. I thought we were maybe too revved up for the game. Some handling errors when they the guys to a little bit too on edge. Once we settled in, I thought we played pretty well.”
To describe his opponent’s play, Wood said, “It was prototypical Life. Real dangerous offensively, they like to push the tempo once they get on the front foot. Their support is so good, they don’t give you the opportunity to slow the ball down and resettle your defense.”
“It’s going to be a tough league between these three teams (Davenport, Life and Lindenwood),” Osbourne said about the this year’s competition. “It’s going to challenge coming up. We are going to put this game behind us, learn from it, and move forward.”