Photos Rich Carvell
JONESBORO, Ark. – With an opportunity to clinch the Mid-South title at hand this past Saturday, Life University did just that by beating Arkansas State. The victory pushes Life’s unbeaten steak to 5-0 on the season, but Arkansas State did not make things easy on the Running Eagles.
After a 27-point win March 1, Life’s Glen Maricelli believes his teammates took the field with confidence, but knew it would be a hotly-contested match.
“Arkansas State versus Life is always going to be an exciting game,” said the 2013 AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American. “They had a good crowd, brought a lot of energy and rose to the challenge. It was quite a battle.”
The Red Wolves did indeed rise to the challenge, and put the first points on the board with a penalty kick from Emilio Betanzo.
Life, equally prepared for the showdown, answered by scoring the next 13 points, including two penalties and a conversion by Joe Cowley following Jake Anderson’s try.
The 13-3 halftime deficit did not break Arkansas State’s spirit, and the Red Wolves narrowed Life’s lead when Kudakwashe Makuvire found the try zone and Betanzo slotted the conversion.
After Cowley’s third penalty, Makuvire scored his second converted try, giving the home team a one-point lead. Just when it looked like Arkansas State would send its soon-to-be graduates away with a win on Senior Day, Life stuck with its game plan and Maricelli scored off a line out that was thrown just five meters from the try zone.
“It was really a forward’s try that I got the credit for, but our entire forward pack should get credit for that try,” Maricelli explained of his game-winning score. “It was a good lift, a good jump, and we caught them with a play they didn’t really expect. Jake [Anderson] got the whole thing going, and I was lucky enough to score in the corner.”
The come-from-behind victory in the final 10 minutes was a fitting way for Life to guarantee a first-place finish in the conference. Seemingly every match played in the Mid-South has come down to the wire, including the 23-17 Life victory on Saturday. The stiff competition has created plenty of admiration between each of the teams in the conference, but especially between Life and Arkansas State.
“Even though we go after one another hard on the field we get along with Arkansas State really well,” said Maricelli. “I’ve played against those guys for four years. I know Shaun [Potgieter], Steyn [Benade], Sean Paterson, and Dylan [Carrion]. Arkansas State and Life, we have good battles but we respect each other.”
The mutual respect was on display after the match when the two teams gathered together to pay homage towards a man who has done so much for college rugby.
“We were honoring Coach [Curt] Huckaby Sr.,” Maricelli said. “He was the one who started rugby in the Mid-South Conference, and got everything going 15 years ago. He’s a really big mentor for Coach [Dan] Payne, so we wanted to give him some kudos and let him know everything he’s done is appreciated.”
The excellence of both Life and Arkansas State has rubbed off on their conference counterparts. Both Lindenwood and Davenport are closing the hierarchical gap in the Mid-South, and eliminated any debate over which conference in college rugby runs supreme.