Although preparation for the match was enormously difficult for the Lions, Head Coach JD Stephenson has been encouraged by the support the community has shown, as well as the support his players have provided for one another.
“The loss of a rugby family member has further strengthened and unified our program, and I’ve been extremely proud of the way in which our players have carried themselves,” Stephenson said. “They’ve been supported fantastically by our truly amazing college faculty, staff, and friends who have been with us every step of the way during this troubling time.”
Playing with heavy hearts, Lindenwood’s typical brand of running rugby was slowed by Davenport’s imposing defensive structure.
The Lions did manage to take an early 3-0 lead off a penalty goal by full back Lungi Tshuma, but Davenport went on to play the remainder of the opening half inside Lindenwood territory. After Davenport loose forward Dom Baily was held up in the try zone, the Panthers won the ensuing five-meter scrum and Baily broke free for an awarded try. Following JP Eloff’s successful conversion, Davenport led, 7-3, at half.
The second half saw minimal scoring opportunities for either side, and Davenport clung to their four-point advantage for 40 minutes to preserve the victory. Although the match was played in a heart-rending circumstance, the win was huge for the Panthers considering the difficulties Davenport has had against fellow Mid-South schools.
“We haven’t won a game against a conference foe since making the jump to the Mid-South two years ago,” admitted Davenport Head Coach James Wood. “We’ve succeeded in becoming more competitive on a consistent basis, but a win has continued to elude us. Saturday’s win, despite the fact it fell outside of official conference play, effectively removed the Mid-South monkey from our back, so to speak.”
The win was not only important for Davenport due to their lack of success against the Mid-South, but because the Panthers had their ups and downs during a difficult stretch of nonconference opponents this season. Victories against Bowling Green and Wheeling Jesuit showed promise, while losses to Penn State and Arkansas State left doubt as to whether or not this team could improve on last spring’s Quarterfinal appearance in the D1A Playoffs.
“The fall has been a tough run, but that’s exactly what we wanted – a test each and every time we stepped between the lines,” said Wood. “I think the win provided our boys validation of the fact that they can indeed win at this level, and that the concepts we have been working on in practice are working. It’s a real solid jumping off point for us and something to build on.”
While the 7-3 outcome in favor of the visiting team should benefit Davenport heading into Mid-South’s spring conference schedule, the match was even difficult to swallow for the victors.
“The Lindenwood boys are a tough bunch who have been through a lot as of late with the unfortunate passing of teammate Charles Labry. JD [Stephenson], his staff, and all others involved put together a very classy memorial event in Charles’ memory. It was something of a bittersweet moment accepting the inaugural Charles Labry Shield from his girlfriend and family.”
There is no doubting the will in Lindenwood’s fight this past Saturday, but the match was simply not theirs to be had.
“It was a courageous effort from the boys; however, Davenport were the better team on the day,” admitted Stephenson. “However, we will be able to hopefully win back the Charles Labry Memorial Shield next year.”
For a the brave and talented group that make up the Lindenwood roster, it will be less about getting back to the chalkboard after the loss as it will be about continuing to heal from the loss of a friend and brother.