In a hard-hitting and exciting D1A Quarterfinal, Life University rode the momentum of a torrid period in the second half to defeat Navy 40-25 at the US Naval Academy Saturday.
In a D1A quarterfinal shown live on FloRugby, the Midshipmen missed a couple of crucial scoring opportunities in the first half, but entered the break ahead 11-7.
Life drew first blood. After a penalty in the middle of the field, Life kicked to touch and attacked from there.
After a couple of quick surveys to the line, flanker Justin Johnson burst onto a pass and was over. That was something of a harbinger of the second half, but not the rest of the first.
After that, Navy did a good job of winning the territorial battle.
“That’s what we wanted to do,” said Navy head coach Gavin Hickie. “We wanted to put them under pressure and play in their end and the boys did very well.”
“They had the wind,” added Life head coach Colton Cariaga. “And we just had a lot of difficulty kicking out of trouble.”
Kicking was an up and down prospect for Navy. Twice the Midshipmen worked their way into the Life half and earned a penalty. Twice flyhallf Cole Euverard missed—just barely, but he missed. After that, Navy got another kickable penalty and opted to take the lineout. Life defended well and once again a point-scoring opportunity was lost.
But eventually the hard running of the Navy players paid off. Life did well to stop Navy at the point of contact, but Navy worked hard at the breakdown and used Euverard’s boot to get on the front foot. The flyhalf made good on two penalty kicks, and that made it 7-6 later in the first half.
And then the big play. With seven minutes to go in the first half, Life attacked off a lineout and ran some phases, but then a scrum half Ryan Rees passed the ball between two teammates. The ball hit the ground and hooker Gordon Livermore kicked it ahead and chased. He outpaced Life center Nikey Roberts, toed the ball into in-goal, and dove over.
It was a huge try for Navy and gave them an 11-7 lead, and the Midshipmen carried that into halftime much to the delight of a partisan crowd.
“It was pretty muddy conditions so we needed to get back to playing a bit more direct and doing the things we needed to do,” said Cariaga.
That, clearly, was sending the big boys up the gut, and it paid off.
In the first few minutes of the half, Life kicked for the corner and took a misfired Navy lineout. Then the Running Eagles just bashed at the try line before Johnson was over once more.
Then lock Daemon Torres finished off a very similar movement, and then No. 8 Keegan Sparks cut through from 14 meters and 16 minutes into the second half it was 26-11 Life.
The Running Eagles were relentless, but Navy didn’t wilt and forward power sent Livermore over for his second. Life replied immediately and back and forth they went. Navy's kicking game wasn't as potent in the second half as Life fullback Mitch Wilson was solid under the ball and was strong in the counterattack.
Life held on 40-25, but it was much, much closer than that.
“I am proud of what we’ve been able to do,” said Hickie. “But we’re not completely there just yet.”
“I don’t know if it’s playing in the Mid-South or if it’s the resilience the guys have or understanding just what it takes, but I think it all helps,” said Cariaga. “We were able to regroup and get back to what was working for us, and we’ll need that going forward.”