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Life University’s fall undergraduate season basically lasted one weekend, but it was a weekend that told us plenty.
The Running Eagles run an elite training group with a mix of undergrads and grads for most of the fall, and the undergrads will finish up with a game against a Stars Rugby invitational side this week. But really it was all about last week, when Life beat No. 6 Penn State 51-34 on Thursday and No. 5 Navy 25-0 on Sunday in back-to-back road games.
“It was our first big road trip,” Life head coach Colton Cariaga said. “They were pretty important games for us in part because we’re going to have some long road trips in the Mid-South, and we need to be ready to travel and play quality sides in a tough environment.”
The quick turnaround from Thursday to Sunday was also useful in terms of getting players to adjust and correct things in a short time. The one thing to correct? Defense.
“There was a period in the Penn State game where we needed to zero in and we didn’t,” Cariaga said. “And it was pretty costly. They equalized and then went ahead. There was a bit of urgency lacking and in fairness Penn State did well to make us pay. But we did make some errors defensively that we had to correct for the Navy game.”
Life played Navy in Annapolis, MD, on Veterans Day, an important day for the Midshipmen. On a rugby level, it was an important day for Life, too, as the Running Eagles were able to completely shut out a very good Navy squad.
“The Penn State game gave the guys a kind of a kick in the butt to stay on task for 80 minutes, and against Navy they put in an 80-minute performance,” Cariaga said.
It’s not all about the rugby, though. Taking a trip like this means also perhaps using the time to expand players’ horizons or learn something. The team stopped in Gettysburg, PA, to see the Civil War memorial there and visited Washington D.C., as well.
“Coaching rugby is my job. The overarching mission, however, is preparing young men for life after rugby. So any time we can get some off-the-field learning, it’s huge,” Cariaga said.
But what did we learn? We learned that Life’s front row, anchored by Matt Harmon and capped Eagle Alex Maughan, is very strong. We learned that Harley Wheeler can turn a game on its head with his pace and elusiveness. We learned that fullback Mitch Wilson is becoming something of a leader at fullback. And we think maybe young Nikes Roberts is a player to watch.
But how they all come together will have to wait until after the winter break. Until then, it’s one more game and back to the gym for these players. But already Life has shown, by beating two of the strongest teams this fall, that the Running Eagles are serious.