The tossup games in the D1A Round of 16 were, for the most part, tossup games, and that is the good news.
While far too many of the playoff games were runaways—four of the games produced an average score of 96-4—two were very close.
Arizona Holds Off Central Washington
“I’m excited in that it was a close game and we had to work for it,” said Arizona head coach Sean Duffy after his side survived CWU 28-19. “Winning that game was a good sign for our growth.”
Arizona is usually a bit of a risk-taking team, but in this game, the Wildcats approached the task at hand as playoff rugby—points matter, regardless of how you get them.
“I think we played a style that was different than what some were expecting us to play,” said Duffy. “It took some adjustment for Central, Andy the time they adjusted, it was too late.”
Relying on sophomore flyhalf Robert Figley to get points with the boot, Arizona inched ahead, and led 13-0. CWU got one back thanks to Alex Mackenzie, only to see Arizona score again, and then once more right before halftime to lead 25-7.
That try, said CWU head coach Todd Thornley, hurt. “We just couldn’t get anything going from set piece and if you can’t win ball you can’t win rugby games,” said Thornley. “Credit to Arizona; they handled the big moments much better than we did.”
The tries were nice for Arizona, but Duffy pointed to the decision to slow things down, be conservative, and go for posts when the chance was there.
“We were a little bit more conservative,” said Duffy. “We worked to stave them of possession. And I think people can underestimate how important it is for a guy to hit a penalty goal and jog down the field and see the 3-0 score and think “‘ did that.’ Having Robert get us those points was huge.”
Matt Rogers was again superb and scored two big tries, while Bronson Teles was a monster at lock.
Now Arizona looks ahead to a Cal team that won its game by 138. What Duffy remembers is that Arizona trailed Cal only 15-6 39 minutes into their conference game on March 23.
“Then we got a yellow card and Cal scored 21 points in those ten minutes,” said Duffy.
Red Wolves Snap At Army
Meanwhile, in the East, the Army players have to be shaking their heads as yet another playoff game in which they had possession and opportunity ended up with a loss.
Head coach Matt Sherman summed it up pretty well: “We felt like we played well in a lot of areas, and owned the lion’s share of possession and territory, but we didn’t finish well enough and we gave Arkansas State too many opportunities in transition that we couldn’t recover from.”
That was it in a nutshell. Arkansas State was patient on defense, and then brutally impatient when chances showed up, scoring some key tries against the run of play.
“Credit to Arkansas State, they’re a dangerous team, lethal in transition, and showed that with all five tries coming off of various turnovers,” said Sherman.
Four of those tries covered more than 50 meters.
“I am really happy with our team effort and sticking to the game plan,” said ASU head coach Blake White. “I think we played our hearts out, and I couldn’t be prouder. Army is a very tough team and West Point is an even tougher place to play.”
After Army was unable to break through, it was Dylan Boast who scored after Zach Young set him up. Ten minutes later, Boast recovered an Army turnover and scored his second try.
Val Balande’s try, with Boast converting, made it 21-5, and it wasn’t until the second half that Army really started to convert pressure into points.
But, with 15 minutes remaining Tabo Maree chased down a kick and went 80 meters. Army inched closer only to see Timothy Ohlwein intercept a pass and rumble another 80 meters.
Twice Army found themselves trudging back behind their goal line after seemingly being ready to score. It was too much.
Arkansas State, now, looks to face Lindenwood, a team they have played twice before, splitting those games.
Lions-vs-Red Wolves take three should be a tossup, too.