Top four-ranked teams reach National Semifinals

D1A Rugby: Top four-ranked teams reach National Semifinals
Photo Credit: Tay Hawker (above) & Karen Drinkwater (homepage)

BOULDER, Colo. – The May 2 D1A Semifinals are set after the Quarterfinal matchups saw Davenport, Life, Lindenwood and Saint Mary’s win in blowout fashion. The four teams that were able to keep their season alive also happen to be the top-four teams in the Canterbury D1A Top 20.

No. 1-ranked Life will attempt to reach its third consecutive D1A National Championship Final when it squares off against Mid-South rival Lindenwood. The Running Eagles didn’t find their rhythm early, relying on two penalty goals by fly half Blane Mcllroy to create just a 6-0 advantage 15 minutes into the first half. However, passes began to find hands in the Life attack, and tries from Mitch Wilson and Zach Warren helped push the Running Eagles to a 28-3 lead by halftime.

The second half was more of the same, with Life’s defense looking as dominant as it was a season ago. Penn State couldn’t create the necessary gaps to produce go-forward ball, and the Running Eagles kept the Nittany Lions scoreless in the second frame on its way to a 64-3 win. Tries from captain Glen Maricelli, Zander Van Schalkwyk and Mark Gribben ballooned Life’s already large advantage.

Life now turns its attention on Lindenwood, a team the Running Eagles have defeated twice this season – but only by a combined seven points. The Lions, who have been firing on all cylinders thus far in the postseason, slam the door on Air Force 59-12 a week after dominating Colorado State 69-12.

Full back Gabe Farley, who scored two tries in the first half last week against the Rams, added two more in the first stanza of the Quarterfinals to assist in the one-sided opening half that left Lindenwood leading 54-0. A resilient effort from Air Force allowed the Zoomies to win the second half 12-5, but did little to mask on overall disastrous afternoon for the cadets.

Saint Mary’s quest for a back-to-back National Championship will roll onto the Semifinals. The Gaels won its rubber match with Utah, and did so easily – 72-26. A move to fly half for AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American Kingsley McGowan has energized an already powerful Saint Mary’s offense. A natural passer with a lightning quick first step, McGowan kept the Utes on its back foot for a healthy portion of the match.

Dylan Audsley, who is having one of the finest individual seasons in college rugby, was superb again. The inside center notched a hat trick and added six conversions for a 27-point afternoon.

As the Gaels did a season ago, the No. 2-ranked club will be put to the test in the Semifinals by a team from the Mid-South. This season, it will be Davenport that will take its best crack at Saint Mary’s. The Panthers recovered from an early 7-0 deficit to take a 24-7 halftime lead over Army with the help from try-scoring wings Vershawn Burke and Reece Czarnecki.

After hooker Gabe Sochanek went over the endline for his second try at the 44th minute to put Davenport up 31-7 following the successful conversion, West Point made a stand. Led by arguably the team’s three best players, Collum Magee and Andrew Fargo dotted down, while full back Logan Pearce was good on both conversions and a penalty to bring the Knights to within seven points at the 54th minutes.

Army’s momentum would be halted by Mike Houston’s try, and Dominique Baily and Brady Gent would add their own to put the Panthers ahead going away 50-24.

Life and Saint Mary’s, seeded No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, will host next week’s Semifinal matchups. If the home teams can prevail, then the Gaels and Running Eagles will face each other for the third consecutive year in the D1A Final. Life won the first encounter in 2013, and Saint Mary’s brought the National Championship hardware home last May.

Davenport and Lindenwood will have to hit the road again for their round of four contests. Still, neither side has been asked to grind out either of their first two Playoff games, so both should be mentally and physically up for it tasks on May 2.

D1A Quarterfinals – May 2

#1 Life vs. #4 Lindenwood

#2 Saint Mary’s vs. #3 Davenport