BYU held on to defeat Life University 26-20 in the D1-A semifinal at Life’s ground in Marietta, Ga. Saturday.
It was a game where Life had a large proportion of possession, and certainly chances to win, but BYU’s defense, and opportunistic counter-attacks, were enough on a day when the Cougars were really tested.
BYU center Paul Lasike broke through a tackle in the midfield and ran in a try in the fifth minute to open the scoring. Scrumhalf Shaun Davies converted to give BYU the 7-0 lead.
Life's first shot at points, a penalty kick from fullback Joe Cowley, careened off the uprights, but the Running Eagles got on the board when wing Calvin Nell fly-hacked the ball forward. After a fortuitous bounce, Nell regathered the ball and offloaded to Cornelius Dirksen for the try. The sideline conversion was missed, leaving the Running Eagles down two at 7-5.
The Running Eagles stayed on the attack, but lost momentum when Cowley inserted into the backline and threw a pass directly into the hands of BYU's Dylan Lubbe, who was waiting in the weeds for the pick. Lubbe raced it all the way in, extending the lead to 14-5 after a Davies conversion.
With about five minutes to play in the first half, Life was awarded a penalty in BYU's end of the field, potentially within Cowley's range. But Life opted for a lineout near the five-meter line and came up empty. BYU exploited the turnover and when Kyle Sumsion made a break through the Life defense, Lasike was there in support. The center scores his second to give BYU a 21-5 lead with just a couple of minutes left in the first half.
Life worked the ball near midfield and into their backline, but outside center Darrian Woodson knocked on a catchable pass, and Lasike scooped it up and scored his third try of the game to put BYU up 26-5 at the break.
Early in the second half Life caught a break when All American prop Mik Su'a was yellow carded. Fellow All-American prop Ray Forrester had gone down with a knee injury earlier in the first half, thus putting a different spin on the scrum matchups. Life's pack started to assert its will, putting Cam Dolan over for a try.
“We dug a big hole in the first half,” said Life Head Coach Dan Payne. “That was the one thing we talked a lot about; trying to weather the storm. They're great with turnover ball, as most really good teams are, and when we coughed up the ball and didn't take care of it they capitalized.”
In the second half, Life kept better care of the ball, and managed to get a try from Cam Dolan, who was everywhere in the second half. After battling repeatedly at the BYU line, Life got another. They failed to score on one attack – BYU’s defense out wide was astounding – but wheeled a scrum at the five-meter. Dolan then picked up and offloaded out of the tackle to Andrew McNeil for the try. Cowley slotted the difficult conversion to put his side within nine at 26-17.
More Life pressure earned a penalty, which Cowley hit.
Now it was down to the final few minutes and Life trying to get that one try. BYU used their forwards to pick and drive and get that game clock down. They did eventually turn the ball over, but BYU’s defense was just good enough.
“Credit to our guys,” said Payne. “They battled back hard in the second half from a deficit they could have easily chosen to crack.”
BYU Captain Ryan Roundy noted that his team held on despite losing their two All American front-rowers.
“We had those two backup front rows, which I guess we've got to work on our scrums a little more with them because their scrum blew us back,” said Roundy. “We didn't play to our game plan. We spent way too much time in our part of the field, couldn't get the ball out. A lot of that was because of how well they were playing. They were killing our scrums and they had the lineouts on all day long. Luckily we held on long enough.”
"You can't take anything away from Life. They're very good scrummagers and they challenged us in the front row, especially when you know you left your boys to hang a little bit," said Su'a. "Cam Dolan scored while I was on the bench, so I felt like that was sort of on my shoulders, so I just tried to come back on and make up for it."
The pick and jams did it. BYU’s forwards were able to dominate possession when it counted – in the last five minutes.
“We've been working on those pick and jams knowing these next few games we were going to have to use them, they were going to be key,” said Roundy. “We finally got the ball on their side of the field and we held on.”
Tries: Lasike 3, Lubbe
Convs: Davies 3
Tries: Dolan 2, Dirksen