Down 17-12 with about 17 minutes to go in Saturday’s D1-A semifinal, Arkansas State was in a bind.
Playing at the home ground of the St. Mary’s Gaels, ASU needed something to change. But a break by Dale Bates, going through a couple of tackles and then sacrificing his body to make the pass to Dean Gericke to set up the try did the trick.
The Red Wolves tied a game they were not expect to tie, and over the next 15 minutes, scored twice more to shock St. Mary’s 31-17 and book a place in the D1-A final next weekend in Salt Lake City.
It was a tough pill for St. Mary’s to swallow.
“For me it was a day of missed opportunities,” said St. Mary’s Head Coach Tim O’Brien. “We made errors which our opponents capitalized on quite well. We showed a bit of a lack of composure, maybe some performance anxiety. And Arkansas State is a team that’s not going to make a bunch of mistakes.”
It was a frustrating day for the coaches, as O’Brien repeatedly implored his team not to kick possession away, only to watch them kick the ball away. It was a frustrating day for the players, who seemed to be on the wrong side of the ref at times. And the frustration spilled out around the field.
“It was disappointed,” said O’Brien. “I was disappointed in St. Mary’s College respect for the game by certain people in the St. Mary’s sideline. In the end, we weren’t good enough. All season long our ball handling has been exceptional, and today we make about four knock-ons in the first four minutes. You can’t fumble the ball and kick away the ball against a disciplined team.”
Arkansas State Head Coach Matt Huckaby was effusive in his praise of St. Mary’s also.
“What a good team they are,” he said. “A couple of bounces of the ball favored us, and got into the right guy’s hands at the right time. Both teams played with a lot of heart; they were very dangerous with the ball in hand and I told everyone not to kick to their fullback, Kingsley McGowan. He’s electric.”
In the end it seemed Arkansas State was smarter, and St. Mary’s lost a little confidence in themselves.
Huckaby praised the work of Zac Mizell and Steyn Benade, the center and flanker who put a huge amount of work in.
“Zac played his butt off, and Steyn I think broke his nose and stayed out there,” Huckaby said. “We subbed in Dale Bates and he made an immediate impact that changed the momentum of the game.”
Late in the match Arkansas State had the lead, and the players started to get excited. Huckaby tried to calm them down.
“We’re been through that with Life,” he said. “I told them, ‘let’s not do this; let’s not think we have this won.’ We knew that a team is most susceptible after scoring a try. We knew they’re be coming.”
Huge excitement for Arkansas State, which has a huge task ahead of them to play BYU in Salt Lake City. And huge disappointment for a St. Mary’s team that thought they were going to Utah instead.
“That’s not the product we want to put out on the field,” said O’Brien. “But we’ll be back and we’ll be competitive. Even losing the players we’ll lose, we’ll be better.”
Arkansas State 31
Tries: Paterson 2, Mizell, Gericke, Hausrer
Convs: Sullivan 3
St. Mary’s 17
Convs: Heath 2