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The USA Rugby College 7s final will be an all Mid-South affair, with Davenport beating Central Washington at the death in one semifinal and Lindenwood evading an upset from Utah with no time left on the clock in the other. Neither Davenport nor Lindenwood has ever won a major college 7s tournament, marking this final as unchartered waters. It may come down to depth, too, with both teams seemingly limping into the 20-minute finale.
In the first semi, it took a heroic play from senior All-American JP Eloff with time elapsed for the Panthers to advance. Central Washington took a commanding lead early, and not until extra time did Davenport make its final eclipse.
Central Washington struck first through Josh Bowers. He capped off a sustained, multi-phase possession by picking from an uncovered ruck and darting in from just a few meters out. Vili Toluta'u had punched the ball up to the line on the previous carry. Bowers centered the score, making the conversion easy – 7-0.
Aladdin Schirmer added to the lead with a turnover try seconds later. Davenport had very little possession through the first few minutes, leading to a 14-0 deficit.
The Panthers then got on the board via Mason Baum on a well-worked 60-plus-meter drive of their own. Brady Gent and JP Eloff both got off risky offloads, and Baum provided the gas on the wing to finish off the score. Eloff’s touch-line kick didn’t get through the pipes, so CWU led 14-5.
Davenport threatened with another long possession right on halftime, but the Panther offense lacked punch and pace, and a Baum knock-on ended the half with no change to the score.
The Panthers would manage their second score, throughout Baum again, after Central Washington’s kickoff to start the second stanza didn’t go 10 meters, giving Davenport a free kick at midfield. Eloff added the touch line conversion, pulling within two at 14-12.
Scott Dean stretched the lead back out to two scores with a try and conversion. He came in support of Dominic Lindstrom, who backed himself up the touch line. The sweeper closed in, and Lindstrom deferred to a streaking Dean.
Davenport went back the other way after reserve Domonique Bailey made a gashing tun off the kickoff. The Panthers spun the ball wide, and Anthony Welmers just stepped into touch as he flailed across the line. Central’s lineout throw wasn’t straight, though, and Davenport took the turnover the other direction for Baum to dot down. Eloff converted, pulling the Panthers to within two at 21-19.
There was time enough for one more kickoff, which Davenport stole. The Panthers sent it to Eloff, who was untackleable en route to the game winner. He slotted the conversion for good measure, giving Davenport the 26-21 win.
Lindenwood just escaped Central Washington's fate in the second semifinal. The Lions took the lead from the start, as the opening kickoff bounced around and found its way into the hands of Mickey Bateman, who ran untouched for the game’s first try. Conversion good, Lindenwood led 7-0.
Utah methodically worked the ball down the field to get its first score. A couple of Lindenwood penalties helped in the effort, and Taylor Thomas just dove over from a point-blank ruck to finish off the drive. The touch line conversion was missed, and Lindenwood still led by two.
Several minutes into the second half, Utah scored in similar fashion. A flurry of penalties allowed the Utes to get right to the doorstep, and a simple dive over from a ruck inches from the try line resulted in Utah taking the lead. The conversion was missed, giving Utah the 10-7 advantage with a just under two minutes to play.
Lindenwood slugged back seconds later. Utah’s restart outkicked its coverage, and Thomas O’Connor made one step and sped up the touch line to regain the lead for the Lions, 12-10.
Utah was granted one more possession, with most of the field to go. A penalty on Lindenwood near midfield saw the Utes make an injury sub. Another penalty for a dump tackle saw LU's Cameron Reed carded with no time left on the clock. Up a man, Utah got 10 meters from the line, but a breakdown penalty allowed the Lions to kick to touch for the win.