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Life West passing through Snake River defense. Bill Thomas photo

With trips to the Western Regionals on the line, the two Pacific conferences played their championship finals on Saturday. In Long Beach, Calif., the Tempe Old Devils dominated the Bay Back Sharks, 34-7, to return to the Round of Eight as the Pacific South Champion. In the Pacific North final in Vallejo, Calif., Life West notched an impressive victory over playoff stalwart Snake River, 29-3, to advance in its first season of DII play. Tempe will play the Red River Conference champion and Life West is set for a date against the winner of the Frontier Conference.

Tempe vs Bay Back
With a dominant set piece and capitalizing on their opponent’s mistakes, the Old Devils controlled the Pacific South Final over Bay Back, 34-7. Tempe jumped to a 22-0 halftime advantage and almost had the shutout until the Sharks scored in the last five minutes of the match. Eightman Lavi Taumoepeau had three tries and wing Maceo Brown had two tries to lead Tempe to victory.

“The game was fairly competitive from Back Bay’s perspective,” Tempe head coach Junior Faasoo said. “Not to say that it was easy for us, we dominated the pace of the game by speeding it up a little bit. Bay Back came in and tried to do the pick and goes, but we went away from that with getting it out to our outside center. That’s where our danger was, our back three and our outside center.”

Taumoepeau and Brown traded tries in the first half opening with the No. 8’s try off a five-meter lineout and then a 70-meter line break from the scrumhalf. Brown’s first try came from a striking back play in corner from another lineout. Captain Alex Taefu converted one of the tries, and Tempe lead at halftime, 22-0.

Tempe’s attacking style prevailed in the second half with Taumoepeau and Ryan Thompson bringing the Old Devil point total to 34. Bay Back No. 8 Sebastian Pedreira found the try zone late in the match, with Mike Wendel making the conversion to break the shutout.

“They played well. We had some tough games this season, but those guys were well organized,” Bay Back head coach Bradley Davidson stated. “They definitely deserved the victory... We didn’t come out like we had all season. For some reason, we stood back a little bit and gave them respect. Unfortunately, it meant we started out on the back foot. We were used to our forwards dominating all year, so these guys matched us in size and skill, so they were able to hold their own... We lost to tries where they overlapped and outnumbered us.”

Tempe will travel to San Francisco for the West Regionals at the end of the month and Faasoo commented on the road ahead. “We played against Little Rock last year. We played against Snake River. It’s a different year, different players, and different philosophies. We are looking forward to that challenge whoever it is.”

Life West vs Snake River
Snake River has been a fixture in the National Playoffs the last few years, establishing itself as a force out of Idaho in the Pacific North. Looking for greater competition after reaching the DIII National Championship last year and only in their third year of existence, the Life West Gladiators crushed the NorCal Division en route to an undefeated record. Starting with the pregame Haka, Life West handed Snake River a 29-3 drubbing to take the next step to the West Regionals.

“From our point of view, we are pretty happy with our offensive system,” Life West's Adriaan Ferris said. “The boys applied themselves and Snake River was certainly a step up from what we played in the local competition. We knew that and we made sure that we were pretty physical and they didn’t disappoint.”

Life West’s three tries in the first half were contributed by its talented back three. Setting the tone in the 15th minute, wing Junior Helu scored from a good combination of passing and offloading, and fullback Travis Atualevao followed it up soon after with a 40-meter streak that ended in the corner of the try zone. Snake River’s Tyler Moyer connected with a penalty kick, but wing Calvin Nell extended the Gladiator’s lead to 17-3 at halftime.

The Life West defense stayed strong in the second half holding back a fierce charge by Snake. Keeping up the offensive intensity, Atualevao and Leki Latu scored tries for the Gladiators and Orene Aii was two-for-five on conversion on the day. 

Reflecting on the outcome of the match, Snake River head coach Mike Saunders said, “They are very good. They are a talented team with some very class players. I thought our guys played very hard. I don’t know if the score was indicative of how close the game was. We totaled a lot of possession, a lot of territory, but they were just too dangerous for us. We just couldn’t react to how fast they could move the ball.”

“Defensively they were stout,” Saunders added. “We were knocking on the door for almost ten minutes in the second half and they kept knocking us backwards. Defensively, they were really sound. If we were to turn the ball over, it was off to the races with them. They could really handle the ball. Their No. 8 is definitely a world-class player... If they can keep everyone healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if they win it all.”