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In a contest between two top 10 clubs in Grand Rapids Mich., No. 3 ranked Life took care of ninth-ranked Davenport in a low scoring affair, 20-13. With the win, Life improved to 4-0 in the Mid-South Conference and is ready for the D1A Playoffs as the conference champion.
“We controlled a little bit more possession than [Davenport],” Life head coach Tui Osbourne said. “We converted when we had to. Even though it was a close, close match, we played a little smarter. Our defense was the main difference. With our tackles, attacking them at the gain line or behind it.... Big ups to Davenport. They are a strong side. They brought the physicality in the first half and they were putting us on the pressure.”
The Panthers were first on the tally sheet with a penalty kick by flyhalf JP Eloff after an offsides penalty. Eloff missed his second attempt minutes later before Life flyhalf Blaine McIlroy evened the score with a penalty kick when the Panthers were called for coming in from the side on a maul.
The score remained knotted at 3-3 until the 34th minute when the Running Eagles scored the match’s first try. After a series of forwards ball, McIlroy switched fields, put a dummied his man then carried the final two defenders into the try zone. With his own conversion, Life led 10-3. Both clubs had a chance to improve their scores with penalty kicks near the end of the half, but both missed.
The teams were locked into a defensive battle to start the second half. It wasn’t until the 60th minute that the first points of the second half were scored with a Davenport PK by Eloff. Life responded in kind with a penalty kick by McIlory to bring the advantage back to 13-6.
Five minutes later, Life would put the final nail into the coffin with a converted try by inside center Zach Miller to lead 20-6. The play started with a Running Eagle lineout and wing Tyrus Baytops took off for a long run down the middle of the field. Life rotated with it’s backs and caught the Panthers on the overload where Miller would finish the possession with the try in the corner.
With less than a minute left, Davenport prepared for their final attack. After switching to center, Eloff got the ball from the forwards from five meters and made a defender miss for the try. With ten seconds left, the Panthers could not finish the come back and Life won, 20-13.
After his team’s second loss by less than two tries to Life, Davenport head coach James Wood said, “Life is methodical. They don’t panic. They don’t break from their structure. They are just a well-oiled machine. They don’t make many mistakes and if you make a mistake they capitalize on it. Once that ball is where they want it or think that they can take points or work a try, they are as good as it gets at that point.”
Describing the match, Coach Osbourne stated, “It was tough. We knew we were going to be dominated in the scrum, so we tried to stay away from going into the scrum. We played every advantage ball if it was going our way. Possession, it was always something. Whenever we would gain possession and move it up the field, we commit a penalty or turn it over. It was a little inconsistent in that area with our possession. A few missed calls on the lineout killed us. Our defense was good. Our ruck work was poor with too many penalties in this match. We were lucky to get the win. A lot of improvement needed in the next match going into the playoffs.
“Pretty good game overall,” Wood added. “In the first half, we didn’t see enough possession. Life did a good job of field positioning on us. The possession that we did see, we were in situations we needed to kick to alleviate the pressure a bit. Tactically, field position, they didn’t give us a chance to get going with our offense. When we did have the ball, I thought we looked pretty good, we looked dangerous, maybe a little bit inpatient... Still not bad being 10-3 at the half. Still a manageable spot for us.”