Dominant first half leads Davenport over Arkansas State

D1A Rugby: Dominant first half leads Davenport over Arkansas State
Photo Credit: Steve Zomberg (above & homepage)

JONESBORO, Ark. – A 16-7 win over Arkansas State this past Saturday jumpstarted a three-match road trip for Davenport. After going winless in a two-match series against the Red Wolves last season and falling to their former Mid-South rival 49-12 back in October, the Panthers’ victory on the road must be seen as an upset.

Scalping Arkansas State may seem like a monumental win for Davenport, but the team believes it had already turned the page after its 7-3 victory over Lindenwood in October.

“In my mind it’s a bit of a carryover from the win against Lindenwood in the fall,” said Davenport Head Coach James Wood. “That was probably the bigger win for us as far as shaking the monkey off our backs, so to speak.”

JP Eloff, who is now settled in nicely at fly half since returning from knee surgery, banged through three penalty goals and converted scrum half Kevin Lydon’s try to help give the Panthers a 16-0 lead at halftime.

Dealing with cold conditions and a pitch partially covered in snow, prime attacking opportunities were few and far between for both squads. The lone points scored over the second forty minutes came in the form of a converted try by Arkansas State. However, Davenport did a terrific job of maintaining possession over several long phases and eventually walked away the victor.

Eloff’s return to No. 10 has allowed junior Brady Gent to move from fly half to full back. His ability to relieve his team of pressure, while putting the Red Wolves under pressure via clearance kicks, was a massive part of Davenport’s success Saturday.

The play of two loose forwards, Connor Schilling and Ben Tietema – who are described by Wood as “grinders” – also kept Arkansas State’s attack sputtering. Of course, the usual solid performances from front row stalwarts and AIG Men’s Collegiate All-Americans Angus MacLellan and Gabe Sochanek aided in Davenport’s successful outcome, as well.

The win in Arkansas was just the first match of the three-game trip that currently has the Panthers in Clemson for a Feb. 24 scrimmage against the Tigers. Just days after a physical, 80-minute battle, and with a Feb. 28 Mid-South Conference opener against Life just around the corner, the meeting with Clemson will be ran rather loosely, with Davenport reserves bearing most of the minutes.

Life, meanwhile, is coming off yet another efficient win after a 51-0 shutout of Clemson.