|Cariaga forcing overtime. John Eilts photo courtesy of USA Rugby|
|Tim Stanfill passing. John Eilts photo courtesy of USA Rugby|
|Life's Paul Bester on defense. John Eilts photo courtesy of USA Rugby|
Life won the inaugural College 7s National Championship Saturday night with a 22-17 overtime defeat of Central Washington in College Station, Texas.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said 7s coach Tui Osborne. “First collegiate nationals, the boys pulled it through. I’m really happy for them.”
Life opened the game with a try from Cornelius Dirksen in the first minute, and Central Washington retaliated in the fifth minute with when 7s All American and tournament MVP Tim Stanfill grubbered a ball stolen in contact by Patrick Blair and Tanner Barnes grounded it for a try.
Central Washington scored again in the seventh minute off of a grubber kick. This time Alex Reher put his foot on the ball and Stanfill outraced his Life counterpart and dotted it down in the try zone, putting the Wildcats up 12-5.
Life nearly scored its second try off of a series of nifty passes, but an over-the-shoulder pass that would have put a Running Eagle into the try zone was called forward.
Likewise, Central Washington thought it had extended its lead to 12 when Blair caught a wraparound offload from Tanner Barnes and bullied his way into the try zone, but the referee consulted the assistant referee, who deemed the assisting pass forward.
Central carried its lead from the 7th minute to the 20th, and had the advantage and a couple of opportunities to put the ball into touch, but Life willed its way into the try zone and overtime.
Reserve Darrian Woodson set up the score with a pair of runs, the first of which left Stanfill on the ground. When the ball popped loose during the last possession of regulation, and Central was trying desperately to just kick it to touch, Woodson laid his body out to keep it in play.
"I had a talk with a lot of guys on the bench. We needed guys to step up to the plate and do jobs today," said Osborne, "and no matter who I put on, they knew what role they had, coming on as a super sub, I’d say. (Woodson) knew that. I saw the look in his eyes just warming up that he was so keen to get out there."
Woodson’s efforts, along with those of his teammates in support, created the overload that allowed Colton Cariaga to dot down the tying try which forced overtime. Scored in the corner, Cariaga didn’t leave himself much margin for error on what could have been the winning conversion, which was missed.
Central Washington secured the first possession of extra time, but it was ended by an errant pass intended for Stanfill, who had been making timely plays for the Wildcats throughout the tournament.
“I was worried. He was a good player, he was very fast,” said Osborne. “He deserved the MVP trophy, for sure.”
Life scooped up the possession, and with CWU scrambling in defense, Jamey Penca scored the game-winning try.
“I think he just put it behind him,” said CWU 7s coach Tony Pacheco of the pass that gave Life possession, “and maybe we didn’t work back, because we were chasing the kickoff, maybe we didn’t work back far enough to give our player in the middle of the field a bit better of an angle to move the ball, and he ended up being a little flat and the pass went behind him, but that’s rugby.
“There were a couple of times right before the end of the regulation where the ball’s bouncing around on the field, and all we’ve got to do is kick it out of bounds. It’s just the bounce of the rugby ball is what it is.”
Life was led all weekend by Cariaga, especially after Cam Dolan went down with a pinched nerve in the early stages. Cariaga came through for Life in the clutch on a coupe of occasions, most notably at the end of regulation of the Running Eagles' pool match with Cal Poly.
Life scored on the last play of the game to tie the Mustangs, but the try was not centered, leaving Cariaga with a difficult conversion about 10 meters from the touch line which would determine if Life would win or tie.
"I just took a deep breath, focused, I was as focused as I ever have been and it just sunk," Cariaga recalled after the Cup Final.
"I actually fell backwards when I kicked it, and I was like, 'Holy crap,' but I didn’t take my eyes off the post, and fortunately it went in. The thing was, we had so many instances like that the whole tournament – had it gone one way or the other our fate could have been ended, so it was a collection of small things like that."