After an exciting round of matches last weekend, D1A has moved itself into the quarterfinals, where there promises to be a bevy of tightly fought contests. The top four seeds all won last weekend, which guaranteed them home field advantage this weekend, and with the quality of opposition they are facing this weekend, every added advantage helps.
#2 Life vs. #10 Army 12:30pm EST:
In the first fixture of the weekend, the Army Black Knights will travel down from New York to Marietta, Georgia to take on the Life Running Eagles. Life is on the hunt for their seventh consecutive semi-final appearance, and with a win this weekend could lock up a home semi-final for next week. Life has been a dominant force throughout the season, and they showed no signs of slowing down last weekend, blowing past Central Washington 87-7. With such an emphatic start to the playoffs, Army will be in for a tough match; however, they’ll be more than up for the challenge.
Army took down Colorado State last weekend on the back of a dominant performance from their men up front. When asked about any change in game plan for this weekend, Army’s head coach, Matt Sherman responded without giving anything away, “We will look to play our best in whatever capacity the game unfolds.” Sherman understands the challenges that his team will face this weekend, but notes that the keys to success for them will be playing within their structures and focusing on themselves rather than getting caught up in what the opposition is doing, “We’re expecting a very strong and balanced team with strong and physical athletes, seasoned and experienced players, that’s well coached. Our focus will be on our performance and playing our absolute best.” This will also be the second week in a row that the men from West Point have endured a long trip to get to their game, but Sherman does not believe it will affect them as they are, “the most resilient young men I’ve ever been around.”
This game will be available on FLO Rugby.
#3 Cal vs. #11 Navy 4pm EST:
Navy will make the long trip across the country from Annapolis to Berkeley to take on Cal. Cal were in fine form last weekend against #14 Grand Canyon putting them away with ease, 85-14. Their backline was the focal point of their game last weekend slicing and dicing their way through the GCU defensive line. Their forwards were also dominant at the breakdown setting a great platform from which the backs took full advantage.
The midshipmen, not to be out done, put in a remarkable performance against # 6Indiana last weekend shutting them out in a dominating 47-0 performance, and this week given the arduous travel schedule they’ve been focusing on the positives that came from that game in training, “we are purely focused on ourselves and looking at areas of our game that worked well against Indiana and a number of areas which need improvement…The travel is challenging but it is just something we accept and get on with.” This according to head coach Gavin Hickie.
Despite this they realize that their fixture this weekend is completely different to the one they played seven days ago, noted Hickie, “ We are only as good as our next game so this week will be a big challenge for us. We know Cal has the ability to move the ball wide very quickly so our focus is on our defensive shape and alignment..”
Navy are expecting a quick and expansive game from Cal, and know that their back three can be lethal when presented with any opportunity. Navy will look to limit turnover opportunity, and solidify their kick chase in order to nullify this threat.
The game will be available through The Rugby Channel.
#1 Saint Mary’s vs. #9 Lindenwood 4pm EST:
The defending champs, Saint Mary’s, take the field this weekend against Lindenwood, in the hopes of booking themselves a home semifinal next weekend. Standing in their way is the ninth seed in the playoffs, but 5th ranked team in the country, Lindenwood. The Lions are coming off a dominating performance over the weekend where they handed Texas A&M a massive defeat, 83-12, and will look to repeat their performance again this week. Saint Mary’s won’t be phased by this though, as they have played three games already this year against teams ranked in the Top 4 this year, and came out victorious every time.
While the challenge of facing such a strong team is not lost on Lindenwood, they feel as though the body of work that they put in this year will hold them in good standing come kickoff on Saturday. “Playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules definitely helps in a tough playoff tournament and our conference rivalry matches with the running eagles are no exception. We’ll prepare for St. Mary’s the same way we work on everyone else,” this according to the Lions’ head coach Josh Macy.
Macy is expecting the Gaels to come out with a bang early and try to impose their will on them from the first whistle. “We expect a hard running and physical team that won’t give up an inch. St. Mary’s will really try to exert themselves early and play in the parts of the field they are comfortable. Defensively, we know they’ll come at us but we know we’ll be up to the challenge,” Macy elaborated.
When asked what he will need to do to pick up a win this weekend, Macy coyly responded, “(Scoring) More tries than the other team is always a big help.”
This game will be available through Flo Rugby.
#4 BYU vs. #6 Penn State 7PM EST:
The final game is a battle of the jungle cats, with the BYU Cougars taking on the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State will take the trip across the country to Utah, and attempt to book a spot in the semifinals next weekend. Penn State put in a powerful performance last weekend against Arizona, but as the game wound down into its twilight, poor discipline started to creep into their game. If Penn State is looking to continue its tremendous run of form, they will need to iron out any of the poor discipline that was in their game last weekend.
For BYU they played in the closest game of the weekend, as they had to fight hard for the full eighty minutes to walk away with the win against Arkansas State. Part of what made the game so close was some uncharacteristic mistakes in the first twenty minutes of the game from BYU. When asked about this BYU’s head coach, David Smyth responded, “We have a young team with many new starters this year. We are a work in progress, each game the boys get better, mistakes are a part of that maturation process. We just keep working, and their skills sets are improving.”
What turned the game around for the Cougars last week was their forward pack. They put up their hand and took the game by the scruff of the neck to really lead their team into the winner’s circle. Smyth believes that if his team is to continue to advance in the tournament, his forwards must continue to lead the way, “everything will start with our forward pack, they’ll set the platform. We have some strong runners up front which will hopefully open the door to using other options on different parts of the field.”
Penn State can expect a physical match up from BYU, and BYU is expecting much the same from Penn State. Smyth explaining, “They look like a tough, well drilled team. I don’t see any real weaknesses, they’re very proficient across the board in all areas of the game. Looks like they have some players that can cause problems, we have our work cut out for us!”
This game looks as if it will be the perfect way to cap off a phenomenal weekend of rugby. It will be available through The Rugby Channel. The winners of these games will appear in the semifinals which will be aired on CBS Sports Network.