Saint Mary’s and three Mid-South teams into Semifinals

D1A Rugby: Saint Mary’s and three Mid-South teams into Semifinals
Photo Credit: Photos Dennis D. Hawk (homepage) & Karen Drinkwater (above)

BOULDER, Colo. – For a second consecutive week, the home teams won each of the D1A playoff matches. Based on the final scores, the matches were not very competitive, although three of the four losing teams Saturday did jump out to early leads.

Looking at the body of work of all of the Quarterfinal-reaching teams, the scores from Saturday show the incredible strength of the four teams moving onto the Semifinals, rather than any deficiencies of the teams ousted after the round of eight.

Saint Mary’s 103 – 10 Santa Clara

Saint Mary’s was held without a point for the first 15 minutes of the match, but any confidence that Santa Clara built after a penalty gave the Broncos an early, three-point lead was immediately flattened once the Saint Mary’s offense got going.

Kingsley McGowan dotted down for the Gaels’ first try, and kick started a relentless offensive attack. Saint Mary’s feverous pace led to a 43-halftime lead.

The Gaels, amazingly enough, refused to slow down in the second half. Wing Nicholas Schlobohm would score his second and third tries within four minutes of the second frame. Adding fuel to the fire were Cooper Maloney and Ryan Pratt, who each had two tries for the No. 1-ranked team in the country.

Although Santa Clara finished its season with back-to-back blowout losses to Saint Mary’s, there are plenty of reasons for the Broncos to hold their heads high going into the summer. When not on the pitch with Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara went 6-0 in its D1A matches. Head Coach Paul Keeler has done a tremendous job in the short time he has been with the program, and Santa Clara’s success will surely garner the attention of local high school talent eager to play under a coach who will make them better.

Saint Mary’s has the luxury of staying home next week, as Lindenwood will travel to Moraga, Calif., to face the Gaels in the D1A Semifinal. Lindenwood’s skill and athleticism will present a few problems for the Gaels, but after scoring over 100 points for the fourth time this season, one must beg the question: can anyone stop Saint Mary’s?

Life 57 – 3 Colorado

Life was tested early, but ultimately the reigning D1A Champions’ talent, structure and experience were far too much for Colorado to match.

Colorado’s Sean Kilfoyle notched the first points of the game with a penalty seven minutes in. The Buffs did a fine job to keep their hands on the ball, while Life seemed a little anxious on defense and committed a number of penalties, eventually leading to a yellow card for Paris Hollis.

Eventually, Life rebounded and began to apply pressure on the Colorado defense with quality phases coupled with great individual breaks. Still, it took until the 36th minute for Life to build a double-digit lead when its two captains linked for a try. After OJ Auimatagi put Joe Cowley away in the corner, Zach Walker closed the half with a converted try, and Life went to the break with a 24-3 lead.

Tyrus Baytops opened the second half with his second try, and a host of Running Eagles would go on to score leaving Colorado in the dust after 80 minutes, and a 54-point win for the home team.

Colorado’s season ends with a second consecutive trip to the National Quarterfinals. However, after Saturday’s scores, it is apparent there is sizeable gap between the nation’s top four teams and the rest of the field.

With little surprise, Life will meet Arkansas State for a third time this season in next week’s Semifinal. After a blowout win in Marietta, Ga., on the first of March, the two Mid-South powers played a much closer contest in the first week of April. Considering a trip to Stanford and a chance to play for a National Championship is at stake, the third encounter should be a passionate affair to say the least.

Arkansas State 43 – 12 Cal Poly

Arkansas State raced out to a 21-0 lead behind the tries of Mike Baska, Kirk Pretorius and Connor Cook. The early momentum led to a systematic handling of Cal Poly.

The Mustangs would get on the board with a try after Cook had already converted the Red Wolves’ first three tries. Arkansas State quickly countered when Captain Shaun Potgieter scored a try to bring the halftime score to 26-5.

Baska would put a second try across the line, and speedsters Tom Haussrer and Dylan Carrion would also get into the action with second half tries.

The loss kept Cal Poly from reaching its second consecutive National Semifinal, but is looks as though Head Coach Dave Burnett and the Cal Poly program will continue to be in the National Title picture for years to come.

For Arkansas State, it has been another successful season, this time under first-year head coach NeMani Delaibatiki. The Red Wolves’ only losses this season have come against Life, which is the team that stands between them and an appearance in the National Championship match.

Lindenwood 64 – 32 Davenport

Flyhalf Ben O’Donnell scored Lindenwood’s first two tries and closed the match with a third as the Lions doubled-up Davenport on their way to a third defeat over the Mid-South foe.

The Panthers scored first on William Dattulo’s try, and scored nearly twice as many points as they did the last time they faced Lindenwood. However, the issues were on the defensive side of the ball for Davenport, allowing Lindenwood to find the try zone 10 times.

Lungile Tshuma, who has moved to the wing since Morgan Findlay’s return to the starting lineup, matched O’Donnell’s 15 points with five conversions and a try.

In what was Head Coach Kruger Van Biljon’s last game at the helm of the Panthers, as he is stepping down from his position, enough cannot be said of the job he has done during his five-year tenure at Davenport. Under Van Biljon’s watch, Davenport won two DI-AA National Championships, and he leaves the program with a roster filled with talent, which should continue to compete deep into the playoffs in the future.

For the Semifinals, Lindenwood must travel west to face Saint Mary’s. Playing in the Mid-South, Lindenwood is comfortable challenging itself against the best of the best in what hopes to be a great match. Head Coach JD Stephenson has done a terrific job transitioning the Lindenwood program into D1A since taking over the head coaching duties from Ron Laszewski.

D1A Semifinals – May 3

Lindenwood @ Saint Mary’s

Arkansas State @ Life

The winning teams from the Semifinals will play for the 2014 D1A National Championship May 10 at Stanford University.