While Cal has undoubtedly been the leader in the college rugby space since the 1980’s, Life University has made a name for itself over the last decade. The small school from Marietta, GA, has captured four D1A titles in the last seven years, including the last two. This past weekend, Life stymied a Cal comeback in the waning moments to capture its second consecutive title.
The Running Eagles are on an incredible run, having not lost a game since the 2017 D1A Final. During this run, Life has won with different players and different game plans. Last year, the Running Eagles used a versatile pack and a dynamic set of backs to steamroll the competition. This year, however, with a number of different players in the fold, the Running Eagles managed to grind out a number of victories.
Life was not without its close calls this seasons. The Running Eagles were pushed on a number of occasions. Navy nearly ended the streak in the Mid-south regular season with an 18-17 loss and in the post-season gave Life a tough go of it in the round of eight. Lindenwood pushed Life to the brink in the eastern championship, only to fall short late in the contest.
“Early on in the season we got tested and it just seemed like something we were going to have to deal with,” said Life coach Colton Cariaga.
Then came Cal. Life looked to have taken control of the final with a 22-7 lead but like it has done to so many opponents before, the Golden Bears struck back and in a matter of moments was leading 26-22 with 11 minutes to play.
There was a moment with a player in the sin bin and down four points that the two year streak hung in the balance. But like so many times before, Life bounced back. Methodically working their way into Cal territory, the Running Eagles pounded away until eventually they broke through with four minutes to go. The streak remains intact.
“The thing we always talked about was you don’t know how resilient you are unless you get tested,” Cariaga added. “We might have saved the most resilient performance for the championship.”
Tested they were. And each time Life came up with the answer. With a talented group of seniors including Rudy Scholz Award winner Harley Wheeler, fullback Mitch Wilson and flyhalf Duncan Van Schalkwyk the team was able to keep the streak alive.
“The university gives us a lot of support and plenty of people have laid the foundation for this successful run,” Cariaga stated. “We also had a tremendous core group of seniors and veteran guys that have been on both ends of it. For them to go out with this is incredible.”
The 2018-2019 season is in the books and a championed has been crowned. Will Life three peat with a new crop of leaders? Or will someone take down the champs? We will have to wait for the start of the 2019-2020 season to find out.