A late try from Joe Cowley with no time left won the South Independent Rugby Conference collegiate 7s tournament Saturday for Life University over Arkansas State.
Life garners an automatic spot in the USA Rugby national championships with the victory. Arkansas State does not secure a spot, but their impressive showing Saturday surely puts them on the inside track for an at-large big.
Both ASU and Life looked very strong in pool play and were clearly destined to face each other in the final. Only rarely were they tested, with Florida series winners Central Florida battling Life to a 29-5 decision.
"I know it was 29-5 but they played really hard and are a bunch of big, tough athletes," said Life Director of Rugby Dan Payne of UCF. "We needed that game because it got us mentally prepared for Arkansas State."
Both teams won big in their semifinal matches, ASU 50-0 over Florida State, and Life 64-0 over Middle Tennessee State.
In the final the teams traded tries throughout. Takura Tel'as try opened the scoring for Life, but the Red Wolves replied soon after. Life led 12-5 at halftime, but gave up an early try in the second half to make it 12-12. ASU then took a 19-12 lead, only to see Life tie it.
On the final play of the game, Cowley, who had made his mark as much with his goalkicking as anything else, raced over for the winner.
"Joe's kicking was big for us, especially in the final," said Payne. "When you could be behind by two, and he hits that tough conversion to tie it up, that gives the guys a big boost."
Payne had many compliments for ASU scrumhalf Dylan Carrion, who is small but scrappy.
"He's a terrific player and was tough on offense, and also made some big tackle," said Payne. "We scored a couple of tries where he made sure we didn't center it - that was down to his work rate."
As for the Life players, Payne was thrilled. He said the team responded well to the five-game tournament format. The players we disciplined and worked hard, but were also smart about their recovery and rest schedule.
"The guys played great," said Payne. "They worked really hard and hold each other accountable. They made a quick transition over from 15s to 7s. They played a great team game in the final. We had some subs come in who put in some strong performances and helped augment the guys already in there."
Paris Hollis was one of those, scoring the tying try and making some impressive tackles.
"Did a great job gave us the spark that we needed," said Payne.
Colton Cariaga, Jake McFadden, and Cam Dolan all played well for the Running Eagles.