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A huge second half effort almost lifted Cougar women’s rugby over Army, but the women of West Point proved just fit enough to hold them off, winning Friday’s DI women’s college semifinal 29-20 at Stanford.

The Cougars jumped out to an early lead with a try from Tressa Tenney, but Army ticked of the next 12-straight points with a try and conversion from flanker Anne Lee and a try from fullback Jess Sexauer. Rebekah Siebach then scored the Provo women’s second try, but it too went unconverted.

Kayla Orvik re-extended Army’s lead with a converted try just before intermission, giving the Cadets a 19-10 advantage at halftime. 

The Cougars had all the motivation coming out of the break, putting relentless pressure on Army, and Siebach scored her second try of the game to pull the Cougars within a single strike at 19-15.

The Cougars went directly back on the offensive. Multiple impressive mauls ended inches short of pay dirt and numerous phases added to an obvious overload out wide. Minutes of Cougar work had let to this overload, but it was thwarted by a heroic tackle from Sexauer, who closed the gap between her and the ball carrier swiftly and delivered a crushing blow.

“When there’s barely anytime left in the game and a tackle’s on the line, you just have so much more motivation to get over there,” said an exhausted Sexauer. “I was hurting at halftime, I’m not going to lie. I was tired, but when you know the game’s over when you miss that tackle, you’re not going to miss it. She actually knocked me pretty good. I felt a little woozy and the trainer wanted to take me out, but if the game’s on the line you’ve got to play.”

The Cougars retained possession, but the hit was a momentum lifter. The Cougars continued their pressure, but knocked on, seemingly spoiling their great scoring opportunity. But they stole Army’s scrum and Ela Wolfgramm staved off multiple would-be tacklers before crashing across the goal line, giving the women from BYU the lead; 20-19.

The Cougars muffed the ensuing kickoff, giving Army a scrum right around the Cougars’ 22-meter line, from which they scored. Sexauer gained most of the yardage off of the set play, and Lee took it in.

“It was a set play, and our backline looked good, but that was all our scrum. Forwards got us the ball nice and clean, and when that happens there’s just no stopping us,” said the Army fullback.

Up 24-20, Army had recaptured the momentum. The Cougar women had some late charges, but couldn’t mount a serious threat – the type of three they’d failed to capitalize on in the first half. Possession traded throughout the final 20 minutes, and an injury to Orvik sapped a lot of the emotion. At full time, Sexauer scampered in for the final score, which would give Army the 29-20 win.

Sexauer, despite being woozy from fatigue or perhaps the sun, delivered the emotional charge Army needed in the second half, set up one try and touched down the final play.

“She’s always been a huge player for us. I think she’s one of the most dangerous players in the game,” said Army coach Will Riddle. “The heart really got to her today. I think she was a little bit off her game just because of the heat.”