The Warriors and Razorbacks have done this before. Last season, both won their respective divisions convincingly and met in the Heart of America Title Match, an 18-14 Arkansas victory in Fayetteville, Ark. Other than a slip up at Kansas earlier this fall by Central Missouri, both programs have again been dominant in divisional play. Saturday they’ll square off once more for the LAU title in Springfield, Mo.
The Razorbacks utilized a superior backline last season en route to victory, and UCM tried to go toe-to-toe with Arkansas on the outside. This time around, both teams look to use a more balanced approach.
“Last year all we did was skip the ball right out to the wing and try to use our speed to get around them. Pretty much we just wore our forwards out trying to support the backs. We need to use the forwards more to pound the ball down the field and then get it to the wings,” UCM captain Keith Hicks said.
“We had a very small forward pack and we had a good backline with a lot of speed, so it was really built around that, and we did fine until we hit St. Louis in the mud and had no way of competing against that pack of forwards they have,” said Arkansas coach Warren Fyfe.
“What I’ve been doing is working with the pack a lot to strengthen us in that area, and so we’ve done that. We’ve got a much bigger, stronger pack, plus good mobility in the loose forwards, plus pretty much the same backline. We’re quite diverse in terms of how we play the game.”
Arkansas, having defeated Central Missouri last season, is not short on confidence.
“Teams haven’t been able to score against us, and I know we have the ability to score tries,” said Fyfe, “but I’m expecting it to be a real battle in the first 20, 30 minutes.”
Central Missouri, on the other hand, has been tormented by the last year’s loss in the title match throughout the spring and summer, and the Warriors are salivating for revenge.
“Most definitely. This is all most of us have been thinking about all year,” said Hicks. “I think everybody’s been trying to get ready for this game. Everything else is just a build up for this.”
Both UCM and Arkansas have been bigger, stronger and faster than their opponents this season, men amongst boys, but that won’t be the case Saturday. The key to this game will likely be who makes more mistakes, commits more penalties.
Saturday’s winner advances to a one-off challenge match against the winner of the Great Plains, most likely Creighton, to decide the fourth bid to the West Playoffs in the spring. The loser is eliminated from postseason contention.