Arkansas State needed to avenge their only loss this season by at least 17 points to finish first in the Mid-South, and early on Saturday against Life the Red Wolves showed all the urgency of a team trying to overcome a 16-point deficit. But in the end, Life University won again, claiming 1st in the D1-A Mid-South conference and a home playoff game against the Rugby East #2.
Arkansas State dominated in the scrums, lineouts and breakdown for the opening 50 minutes or so, and took a 10-point lead into halftime. They extended it to 13-0 early in the second half, but ran out of gas, and Life ran in two converted tries late to secure a 17-13 win, the Mid-South title, an undefeated regular season and a home playoff game.
Life played without the services of No. 8 Cam Dolan, who suffered a concussion Monday in practice, and the Running Eagles lost veteran forward Paul Bester just three minutes in. Those losses severely hurt their lineout, and Arkansas State took advantage.
The first Red Wolves score was a direct result of Life’s weakened lineout. After ASU’s Zac Mizell put the ball into touch deep in Life’s end, the ASU forwards stole the setpiece, setting up flyhalf Pat Sullivan’s try. Sullivan converted his score, putting ASU up 7-0.
Life not only struggled in the lineout, but in the scrum and ruck, drawing numerous penalties in both areas. After back-to-back Running Eagle penalties, Sullivan nailed a 40-meter kick to give the Red Wolves a 10-0 advantage.
Life made multiple forays into Arkansas State’s half of the field, but lost two attacking scrums and two attacking lineouts inside ASU’s 22, and fullback Joe Cowley missed one shot at goal. Sullivan returned the favor, missing a penalty right at halftime.
He didn’t miss his first shot in the second half, though, extending the Red Wolves’ lead to 13-0 after Life was pinged for another penalty in the scrum.
Throughout the opening 60 minutes, Arkansas State’s back line did a great job of bottling up Colton Cariaga, Darrian Woodson and the rest of the Life backs. They were aggressive, and Mizell and Sullivan were sure with their tackles. But in the final quarter of the game, with Life now controlling territory, the Red Wolves were a step slow.
The first time that bit them was when Life flyhalf Jake McFadden was able to zip a pass to the right wing, who found room to run outside of a blitzing ASU defender. The break set up Life’s first try, which was scored by Woodson on the opposite side of the field one phase later.
ASU’s aggression again hurt them when Sullivan and Mizell collided on an attempted tackle of Life wing Calvin Nell. Nell was able to squirt through the collision and score the go ahead try, which Cowley converted for the 14-13 lead.
Life’s pack, reinvigorated by the first try, maintained possession for most of the last quarter of the game, and with no time left on the clock, Cowley slotted a penalty to give the Running Eagles the 17-13 comeback win.