For the third straight year, Army is hosting a DI-A Quarterfinal. Saturday, the Black Knights welcome Life to West Point, as they try to win the first of those three home playoff matches. In 2011, Army fell 32-26 to Utah. In 2012, the Black Knights lost 36-20 to Arkansas State.
“I think that has been a motivating factor in the back of our minds all season,” said Army senior captain and flyhalf Will Holder. “We know that our field comes with a big home field advantage, but the past couple of years our own mistakes have killed us.”
In Life, Army is playing what many consider one of the top three teams in the country, so while the Black Knights are the higher seed, they are the underdogs. Saturday will be the first-ever meeting between Life’s undergrad team and Army.
“We’re just preparing for a team that has weapons all over the shop,” said Army coach Rich Pohlidal. “I’ve seen their back row run really hard and take off, and I’ve seen their tighthead do the same thing. They’re all very well equipped. But we’re also well equipped. We’ve got guys that can run, tackle and bring ball carriers down, so we expect to match up with them well and have a good go.”
“I know that Life is a very well coached team that plays smart rugby. They have a couple of athletes that are very dangerous but at the same time, we have our weapons as well,” added Holder.
“Our pack has been playing way above their experience level and our backline is still looking for our true breakout game.”
While the backline launch starts with Holder, the guys who can finish off some big breaks are fullback Kyle Ulses and wing Chris Beck. They’re both dangerous runners, and Army benefits from them getting more touches.
Holder is Army’s most notable player. He’s a capped Eagle, he’s the son of a well known and respected coach, and he is Army’s best player. But other cadets can get lost in his shadow.
“Some of Will’s best games are the ones when he’s actually not touching the ball down and he’s setting up others,” said Pohlidal. “And we look for those opportunities to kind of adjust pattern and create different forms of attack across the field, and that’s something that Will’s kind of worked on. But, also if there’s 10 seconds left and we want the ball in someone’s hands, it’s probably Will.”
The guy who can lift his teammates’ play in the forward pack is lock Aaron Retter.
“He’s the type of guy that if he’s having a good day, people around him are having a really god day as well,” said Pohlidal. “So he needs to play up to his potential, and I think he will. He’s working hard.”
Life has some very talented runners in the back row – Cam Dolan, Paris Hollis and Glen Maricelli – so good tackling from Army’s wing forwards will be pivotal Saturday. West Point openside Matt Higgins, says Pohlidal, is up to the challenge.
“I think Matt’s kind of like the unsung hero of most games,” said Pohlidal. “He does a lot of little things at the breakdown off the ball and has good instincts on where to show up. I think he brings a lot to the table.”
But it won’t likely be one individual breakout performance that pushes Army past Life. If it’s to happen, it’ll be on the back of a consolidated effort.
“A lot of times our top-end rugby decision making, our experience, is just sometimes not as great as other teams’. We have to play great team rugby and focus on making each other better and blending well,” said Pohlidal.
“It’s a great opportunity. It’s back home. We want to bring a lot of energy to it, but we want to play really consistent and play great team rugby. That’s our strength.”