Memorial Shield back with Lions after 20-16 defeat of Panthers

D1A Rugby: Memorial Shield back with Lions after 20-16 defeat of Panthers
Photo Credit: Steve Zomberg (above & homepage)
ST. CHARLES, Mo. – The Charles Labry Shield is securely in the hands of the Lindenwood Lions after the team’s recent, 20-16, defeat of Davenport. The Shield is the trophy given to the winner of the Charles Labry Memorial Match – a way to honor the passing of a Lindenwood rugby player who was struck and killed by a vehicle this past October.

Every match played between Mid-South teams has added incentive given the competitive nature of the conference, but further motivation was present in the Lindenwood locker room.

“The jubilation of the match was electric,” described Lindenwood Head Coach JD Stephenson. “I think that was the icing on the cake that we were able to do that in front of the Lindenwood student body that were so close with Charles.”

The victory didn’t come easy for the Lions, as they had to dig themselves out of a 10-0 deficit in the first half, and were down 16-10 with just 20 minutes left to play in the match.

Davenport inside center Mike Houston totaled the first points of the Memorial Match with a try at the fourth minute. From there, JP Eloff’s boot produced the remaining points for the Panthers. The standout fly half converted Houston’s try and slotted three first half penalties.

Lindenwood forward Mike Gierlach and Sebastian Kalm found the try zone midway through the opening half, but neither score was converted and the Lions went into the break down six points. Lindenwood, blessed with a deep and talented bench, used a number of substitutes early in the second half, which seemed to jumpstart the Lions on the both sides of the ball.

“Given the level of rugby in D1A you’re going to need fresh legs, and we’re really big on using tactical subs to help bring the team home,” Stephenson said. “It’s really good to know that I’ve got eight guys on the bench that could potentially be starting, and they are going to make an immediate impact.

“That’s a testament to our second and third-grade teams and the coaching staff that facilitates such depth.”

A converted Gabe Farley try gave Lindenwood its first lead with less than 20 minutes left to play, and Nick Feakes extended that lead to 20-16 in the closing minutes.

“The game could’ve gone either way in the last 10 minutes,” admitted Stephenson. “It was just fortune for us that it went our way.”

The first rendition of the Charles Labry Memorial Match went to the Panthers back in October. The match was played just days after Lindenwood lost a friend and rugby brother in Labry. Given the timing of the fall friendly against Davenport, the teams felt it appropriate to honor the young man and his family soon after the tragic event. Going forward, the Charles Labry Shield will be played once a year during the spring season when Davenport visits Lindenwood for a D1A Conference match.

“I have to give kudos to Coach [James] Wood and Doug [Powers] and the rest of the staff there,” complimented Stephenson. “It was great seeing Davenport getting behind and being so respectful of the event. It’s a sign of a class organization and some very respectful young men.”

As fulfilling as it must have been to reclaim the Labry Shield, the Lions will have to refocus in a hurry. Life comes to town March 21 – just two weeks after the Running Eagles handed Lindenwood a 25-21 defeat.

In its two Mid-South matches, the Lions have struggled out of the gate, giving up early leads to very good teams. Other than stronger play at the opening whistle, Lindenwood’s staff has a few other items it will be working on this week in preparation for the conference leaders.

“They like to try and hold us up and they’re quite crafty at slowing our ball around the ruck,” Stephenson said of Life. “So, we’re really working at our ability to clear out and shift bodies around the ruck.

“Our back three has to be very mindful that their half backs use their foot very well.”

At 2-0, a Life victory would inch the Running Eagles closer to a second consecutive undefeated Mid-South season and another Conference Championship. On the other end, if Lindenwood (1-1) can pull off the upset, the Lions would move into a tie for first place with the Running Eagles.