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The DIA Playoff did not disappoint over the weekend as all four games were competitive and two teams came away with surprising upset wins. In the end, Lindenwood, Penn State, Cal and Life survived to the final four.
Top seeded St. Mary’s had not lost a game in several seasons, but were thoroughly beaten at home by an impressive Lindenwood side. The Lions went up early 17-3 but had to weather a late first half surge from the host side. At the break, the game was 17-15.
Lindenwood scored three consecutive tries to open the second half, however and stormed out to a convincing 38-15 led. Capped USA Eagle Deion Mikesell scored three on the day to propel the visitors to the win.
“Our guys carried very effectively and made great decisions with ball in hand. We played with a lot of patience and dedication especially on the defensive side of things. St. Mary’s definitely found some chinks in our armor but we were able to continue to pressure them,” said Lindenwood coach Josh Macy.
St. Mary’s was unable to find enough holes, though, and ultimately fell 43-22. Lindenwood came into the game with a plan and executed extremely well.
“We played so well. We worked on a plan together on Monday using some data we put together and they really bought in and played what they discovered through the process,” Macy added.
The other big upset of the weekend saw Penn State edge BYU 48-46 in a thriller out in Provo. It is only the second time BYU has lost to a college opponent on South Field.
BYU looked to control the game early and jumped out to a 12-0 lead. The Nittany Lions fought back to even the score at 12-12 and continued its momentum adding two more within a 10 minute span. Lock Ryan McNulty scored the last three tries, demonstrating his dynamic play. On one he finished off a score in the corner and on the other two found space around the ruck to dot down.
The Cougars added a try before halftime and three right after the break to take a whopping 43-24 lead. It looked like Penn State’s luck would run out but the team fought back. Three tries drew the Nittany Lions even but a penalty from BYU late gave the Cougars a 46-43.
“This group has proven a few times that they can win tight matches. I think we have learned from all the games leading up and continue to get better every week,” said Penn State coach Justin Hundley.
The final couple of minutes were chaotic, with the Penn State set piece really the difference. With two minutes to play, the visitors forced BYU to turn over the ball with pressure in the scrum. Another shove from Penn State led to a BYU penalty and with no time on the clock, Penn State elected to kick to the corner instead of going for the tie. Penn State executed a maul off the line out and drove the ball over with Rob Irimescu touching down to claim victory at the death.
“I think it was a gutsy call from the team to go for the win and not take the game into overtime, but I think it speaks volumes about the character of the group,” Hundley added.
Navy gave Cal all they could handle in a 33-27 game at Berkeley. The Midshipmen led 15-10 at half thanks to stellar play from the pack, especially from number 8 Conner McNerney.
Cal scored to open the second half but McNerney’s second score of the game roughly 50 minutes into the match gave the visitors the lead.
The Bears responded, however, scoring three times in seven minutes to take a 30-20 advantage. With less than 10 minutes to play Navy squeaked its way down the right sideline and found the try zone. McNerney nailed the tough kick to cut the lead to three.
Cal pinned Navy deep and forced a turnover that ultimately led to a penalty for the hosts. With less than two minutes to play, Navy needed a converted try for the win. With a scrum deep in Cal territory, the hosts were awarded a penalty. They kicked to touch and the game ended.
The final game of the weekend saw Life upend Army 44-10 in Georgia. The Black Knights stayed with the Running Eagles for a half, trailing 17-10 at the break. Thanks to stingy defense, and a potent attack, Life tallied 27 unanswered second half point to book a place in the semis. Austin White netted three tries in the effort.
The gap is clearly closing in college rugby. Close games this weekend and several upsets bodes well for the future.
“The results from this weekend indicate that there is less and less distance between the top teams, which is great for collegiate rugby,” Hundley added.
In the semifinals, Penn State will take on Lindenwood at St. Mary’s in Moraga Calif., while Life will host Cal in Georgia.