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The grueling gauntlet of must-win rugby known as the Mid-South continues this weekend in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Davenport hosts Arkansas State. It’s the Panthers’ first conference home match, so the atmosphere should be buzzing.
In four seasons of playing rugby, Davenport has never lost a home game. Teams like Notre Dame, Michigan, the Chicago Lions, Ohio State, Bowling Green, Miami (OH), Michigan State and Indiana have all tried and failed to win in Grand Rapids.
The Red Wolves will surely provide the stiffest competition the Panthers have ever hosted, but with a playoff spot still within reach, and an awful lot of pride on the line, expect Davenport to leave everything on the field against Arkansas State.
Add to all that the come-from-behind win the Red Wolves scored against Davenport a couple of weeks ago, and this game should shape up to be a good one.
In Jonesboro, the Panthers built a 22-7 lead off of superior intensity. The Panthers were faster, more focused and their attack more potent in the opening 50 minutes. But the Red Wolves regrouped and went on a 24-3 run to close out the game.
ASU struggled particularly to contain Davenport openside flanker Alek Mares, who made some probing runs early on. Mares will start on the bench Saturday, as All American Ryan Hargraves is back from an ankle injury that kept him out of the first meeting. DU’s lineout, with 6-7 lock Rory Dill, provided a good platform.
When the Red Wolves got back to their usual tenacious ways, it was because the feisty play of scrumhalf Dylan Carrion and Zinzan Elan-Putick gave them some go-forward, and the pack was imposing at the breakdown. The forwards also contested much better in the lineout late, which eventually led to the go-ahead try.
Currently, the home team has won every contest in the Mid-South. If that trend continues, there will be a three-way tie in the win/loss columns at the end of the season, with Life, Davenport and Arkansas State all sitting at 2-2. With the Mid-South getting two bids to the postseason, every team is still squarely in the playoff hunt.
Life may even be rooting for ASU this weekend, as the Running Eagles could make the playoffs by just holding serve at home if the Red Wolves win in Michigan.