BOULDER, Colo. – In what will be a rematch of a 2014 D1A Playoff match, Davenport takes on Army in a contest that will decide one of the four spots in the National Semifinals.
Last year’s postseason game between the Panthers and Cadets was hotly contested, until Davenport was able to put away its foe in the final minutes. That Army team, while senior-laden, entered the Playoffs after a suspension-shortened regular season, and had to travel to Michigan in its attempt to knock off the Panthers. This year, Davenport travels to West Point.
“The win last year was great, but in my opinion you can throw that out the window,” said Davenport Head Coach James Wood. “You can’t make any assumptions come playoff time. You’re going to get everyone’s best shot.”
Like Wood, Army Director of Rugby Mike Mahan thinks last year’s results mean little on Saturday’s affair. In fact, Mahan believes this year’s Davenport side is improved as compared to last year’s, and has been especially impressed with the team’s fly half.
“I think they are a better team this year than they were last year,” said Mahan. “They have JP Eloff back, and he’s got a great foot for scoring points. He was out with a knee injury when we played them last year.
“They look bigger to me this year, particularly in the back line. So, it’s going to be a challenge for some of our smaller, younger guys to bring them down – on man, one tackler. I think that will be the key to the game.”
Ranked No. 3 in the country, Davenport sits two spots ahead of Army in the Canterbury D1A Top 20. West Point has already faced Life and Saint Mary’s, which ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, but did not fare too well in those contests, losing by a combined 62 points. Regardless, the Cadets are confident they can compete with the upper echelon of college rugby.
“After the games against Life and Saint Mary’s our guys felt like they can compete with them,” affirmed Mahan. “They know they have to bear down and play well in all aspects of the game when playing teams that are that good.”
In order to get an improved performance against a highly-touted side, West Point must have stellar performances from scrum half and field general Jake Banarhall, lightning-quick wing David Huff, and unquestioned leader Collum Magee.
For Davenport, the team will need its tight to play its best, as AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American Angus MacLellan is in South America touring with the USA Rugby Selects. It will also benefit the Panthers’ cause if they can get an outburst of production in the back line out of someone other than Eloff. Last week it was winger Reece Czarnecki, who scored two first-half tries. Likely candidates to put their stamp on the Quarterfinal would be center Mike Houston or wing Mason Baum.
While the strength of hooker Gabe Sochanek and speed of Czarnecki are nice weapons to have, Davenport’s coaching staff thinks the biggest challenge will be a mental one.
“The big thing is going to have to be mindset,” suggested Wood. “With the type of training these guys do at the military academy, they are going to give you a full 80 minutes. It’s not in their makeup to quit, and we have to be mentally prepared to do the same on our end. They are going to be a tough matchup.”
The Quarterfinal contest between Army and Davenport will kick off at 1 p.m. ET at the Anderson Rugby Complex on the West Point campus.