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Life advanced to its third-straight D1A championship game with a 43-14 defeat of Lindenwood in Marietta, Ga. Saturday. The Running Eagles built a four-try second-half advantage before the Lions were able to get on the board.
Life won the kicking battle and proved better in the set pieces, which made the biggest difference in the match. The semifinal was hotly contended, as referee Derek Summers had to stop play and have several conversations with both captains after skirmishes off the ball.
Glen Maricelli got things going early on for Life, scoring the opening try after connecting with flyhalf Blaine McIlroy. The Irishman hit the conversion, putting the Running Eagles up 7-0.
Lindenwood had a strong attacking opportunity midway through the first half with a scrum about seven meters from the try line. Life stole the set piece, and the Lions were unable to capitalize on a significant possession in the offensive end.
Zander van Schalkwyk scored to extend the lead with about 13 minutes to go in the opening half. He caught an offload from Hiko Malu, who recovered his own grubber kick to set up the score. McIlroy slotted the easy conversion, extending the lead to 14-0.
A few minutes later Life’s ascendency in the scrum helped the Running Eagles go up three converted tries. After a few resets on the five-meter line, Life was granted a free kick. The ball was quickly toed through and Maricelli dove over for the score. McIlroy converted – 21-0 with just over five minutes in the half.
Life essentially put the game out of reach 12 minutes into the second half with a fourth try. After a series of sloppy play and some questionable decisions by the Lions, Life went wide on a counter attack, with Tyrus Baytops and Van Schalkwyk touching the ball in a string of offloads leading to a Jake McFadden try.
Lindenwood finally got on the board shortly thereafter. Right off the kickoff Maricelli was penalized in a breakdown and sent off for 10 minutes. The Lions opted to scrum against the depleted Running Eagles, and a phase after the set piece Gabe Farley dove over in the corner. Mickey Bateman slotted the conversion, making it 26-7.
Lindenwood got maximum value out of the Life sin bin, putting in another try with Maricelli on the sideline. This one also came off a scrum, this time at midfield with Bateman scorching through the Life defense for the score. He nailed the kick, too, pulling the Lions within two scores at 26-14.
The second bin of the game, this one to Lindenwood reserve prop Corey Harmann for foul play in a defensive ruck, gave McIlroy a shot at goal. He nailed it to extend the lead to a three-score game at 29-15 with just under 12 minutes to play.
The final death knell sounded in the 95th minute, when Baytops converted a Lindenwood turnover into Life points with a 50-meter sprint. The Lions were desperately trying to make something happen quickly and get back in the game, but ball handling didn’t hold up, and Baytops made them pay. Converted, the score saw the Running Eagles go up 36-14.
With the game well in hand and about 100 seconds left on the clock, Life scored off another Lindenwood penalty, kicking to touch and taking a lineout. The Running Eagles crossed over on the set piece play, flattering the final score line.
Life awaits the winner of Davenport and St. Mary’s. The D1A final is slated for May 9 at Fifth-Third Bank Stadium in Atlanta.