Mid-South Top 20 teams hit conference play this weekend

D1A Rugby: Mid-South Top 20 teams hit conference play this weekend
Photo Credit: Sabine Neveu

Four Mid-South Canterbury Top 20 teams are in conference action this weekend. #18 Clemson travels to play #8 Arkansas State, while #6 Lindenwood hosts #10 Davenport.

#8 Arkansas State vs. #18 Clemson
Saturday is the first of a home and home series between the two teams this month, and both have kept busy this past week in different ways. The Tigers took part in the Las Vegas Invitational CRC this past weekend, going 5-1 in the tournament and ultimately losing 29-0 to Lindenwood in the final.

Before that, Clemson was coming off a dramatic last moment 34-33 victory versus Davenport marking the program’s first D1A win. Head coach Steve Lynch credited the win to the culture of the team, not individual efforts. The trip on cloud nine was short lived, as life on the pitch is business as usual according to Lynch, citing that the atmosphere in practice has been “focused, not overconfident.”

“We know every week will be more difficult than the last,” Lynch added. “There are no easy Saturdays in the D1A Mid-South. The lads understand that we need to bring our best week-in and week-out to have a chance to win. We can’t focus on winning, just doing the little things well and achieving marginal gains every day.”

The win against Davenport was stamped by a try in the game’s final moments by Hunter Dawsey, and the ensuing conversion by Aaron Keers toppled the Panthers.

Its next test is the Red Wolves, who look to recover following a 17-17 draw against Lindenwood. Prior to that game, however, Arkansas State pulled out a 46-23 win over #9 Indiana. Seven separate players scored tries, including sophomore full back Zach Young registering two on the day.

Young has been a big playmaker thus far for Arkansas State. Elsewhere, Tanner Pope highlighted the Red Wolves in the second half against Lindenwood with two tries and is hopeful the performance can be duplicated versus Clemson. Tabo Maree is also one to keep an eye on as the lock continues to follow up a stellar fall season.

#6 Lindenwood vs. #10 Davenport
In the match against Arkansas State the Lions held a temporary 17-10 lead early in the second half before the Red Wolves answered with a try and conversion of their own just five minutes later. Before that, 8-Man Wesley White and prop Toma Ghattas recorded tries to give Lindenwood a halftime advantage.

“The second half was well within our grasp, I think we even had the ball over the line twice,” Lions head coach Josh Macy said. “We did a great job of driving and being patient, just didn’t finish to win the game. Have to praise Arkansas [State] for not giving a penalty in their half of the field during those final sequences.”

The tilt with the Red Wolves came a day after a successful Las Vegas 7s CRC Championship performance, which made the team “a little off kilter” Macy admitted. With multiple players returning from the three-day tournament it was a prime opportunity for reserve players to get some extra playing time in 15s action. Some players did not make the trip to Jonesboro, while others elected to follow up a CRC 7s Invitational spot with more action on the pitch.

“Kudos to Arkansas State for being tough and hungry…but I was overall pleased with how our replacements played. Both teams struggled to get the scrum right, and that made things tougher for us in a part of the game we expected to excel. Such is rugby I guess.”

Moving forward in practice without other distractions has benefitted the Lions this week and specifically focusing on making their offense more efficient. It comes at a good time against a Davenport team that is hungry for a win of its own.

The Panthers slow start to 2017 can be blamed on lack of practice and games coming in to the spring campaign. Combined with no warm up games, narrowly losing to Clemson and then facing #2 Life out of the gate, it is an understandable frustration.

Admittedly head coach Harry King II cited team errors as cause for frustration. In the game against the Running Eagles they put up much more of a fight than what the scoreboard indicates. But despite the frustrations, all signs point to an improving Davenport squad that is much closer to firing on all cylinders. If the fall results are any indication, the Panthers are ready to pounce on the opposition to spark a surge in March.

In terms of chemistry, fly half Brady Gent has worked well expectedly alongside fellow senior scrumhalf Noah Zomberg. Conor Schilling has been strong in the forward game, as well.