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Behind a strong defensive performance, Life, which played a man down most of the match, improved its record to 5-0 in the American Rugby Premiership with a 26-7 victory over NYAC in Marietta, Ga. To start their spring campaign, the Running Eagles widened their point gap in the standings to eight over the field. Flyhalf AJ MacGinty was six-for-six on his kicks, connecting on three penalties and three conversions.
“We played well for the first 20 minutes,” Life head coach Blake Bradford said. “We stuck to our offensive pattern and that’s how we got our points. After Phil Thiel’s red card, we were under pressure for the rest of game with 14 men. We ended up defending too much, but I thought the guys did pretty well on defense. We worked a lot this week on defensive lines and the guys stuck in there with a lot of heart and guts. It was a pretty good defensive effort to win the game.”
The game’s first score came off MacGinty’s boot for Life to take an early 3-0 lead. Barely before the 10-minute mark, Life increased its advantage when flanker Dave Gannon scored off a driving maul from a lineout. MacGinty made the conversion, as well as another penalty about six minutes later, to extend the lead to 13-0.
At the 20th minute, disaster seemingly struck for Life as Eagle hooker Phil Thiel was red-carded for a dump tackle. NYAC could not muster an advantage initially, as John Quill was issued a yellow card for a late tackle soon thereafter. Playing 14-on-14 allowed Life to regain its composure and modify its defense for the remainder of the game.
With about 12 minutes remaining, the Running Eagles had a line break, and after a few phases Lance Cavanaugh muscled through a tackle enough to offload to a hot Kyle Stroman for the try, untouched. The conversion was true, and Life opened up a 20-0 lead. Back at full strength, NYAC would not be silenced in the first half. Justin Hundley was the recipient of NYAC’s lone try, and Chris Mattina added the conversion.
Up 20-7 at the half, Life laid out its defensive strategy and the Running Eagles executed the plan effectively. Even though still playing a man down, the defense shut down the NYAC offense for the rest of the game. MacGinty added insurance to the tally with two long-range penalty kicks to extend the lead to 26-7. NYAC did not quit, but was unable to make an impact on the scoreboard. With the win, Life is firmly entrenched at the top of the ARP standings with NYAC holding off contenders for second place.
Praising his opponent, Bradford stated, “NYAC forced us to defend a lot. They kept the ball on attack and they had us under pressure for a good portion of the second half. We hung in there defensively and kept them out...Our guy’s showed a lot of heart and guts. We stayed patient both on offense and defense. We didn’t give up too many line breaks and we didn’t over commit to the rucks, which allowed us to have numbers up on defense. I though our defensive effort won us the game today.”
“Our forward pack played pretty well with a man down, especially Dave Gannon and Kristopher Headlee. They really led from the front. Shaun Davies, our No. 9, and AJ MacGinty, our No. 10, they controlled the game pretty well with the foot, and Blain McIlroy had a pretty good game as well.”