BOULDER, Colo. – Life’s visit to Davenport Saturday isn’t your typical match between teams at the opposite ends of the conference standings. The Running Eagles enter the game 3-0 and victors of a second consecutive conference championship, while the Panthers are still winless in the Mid-South.
Regardless, a hard-fought battle for 80 minutes is to be expected after Davenport went toe to toe with Life, only to fall, 28-25, after a penalty split the posts on the game’s final play.
“That game was a close one, and I think we played really well,” Davenport AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American JP Eloff recalled. “We did look at the film from that game and talked about it. We need to take care of the ball better – we had a few turnovers that cost us, and a few opportunities that were wasted due to bad passes. Just basic stuff we can fix.”
Cleaning up some loose ends will surely go a long way towards a winning effort against Life, but even more important will be the play of Davenport prop Angus MacLellan – who was absent from the teams’ first meeting due to his participation at a Men’s Eagles National Team camp. Given MacLellan’s presence and Davenport’s home field advantage, coupled with the Feb. 28 result, it would not be a far stretch to label the No. 4-ranked Panthers a slight favorite over the No. 1-ranked Running Eagles.
Confident in his team’s ability to play with any team in the country, Davenport’s play-caller still knows tomorrow’s contest will be a challenge.
“They’re a very strong team,” Eloff said of Life. “Their pack is very good and the back line is really organized, but we can definitely hang with them.
“It’s always a great honor to play Life. They’re a very respectful team, a very good team, and it always brings out the best in us.”
The Panthers will host their final home game of the season against Lindenwood April 11, but will use Saturday’s clash against the Running Eagles to recognize the soon-to-be graduates as part of Senior Day. While first XV contributors Mason Baum, Ben Tietma, and a host of other seniors will receive a well-deserved ovation prior to kickoff, it’s difficult not to highlight Eloff, MacLellan, and hooker Gabe Sochanek. The trio of All-Americans were key members of the Panther sides that won back-to-back D1AA National Championships in 2011 and 2012, and have been instrumental to the team’s emergence as a D1A contender.
“It’s been a long road for us, and we’ve put a lot of time into this program,” Eloff said of the senior class. “Angus and Gabe have worked hard and done their part, and Angus has done a phenomenal job as our captain.”
A win over Life would be monumental. Not only are the Running Eagles the top team in D1A, but a victory would also mark Davenport’s first win in Mid-South play since joining the conference two seasons ago.
“It’s definitely something that’s been coming up, and there is pressure on us,” Eloff admitted regarding the monkey on the program’s back. “We just feel like if we can just break the edge and get that first win it will give us more confidence.”
For the group of seniors, especially fifth-year standouts Eloff, MacLellan, and Sochanek, the hard work has been put in and Saturday will be a day to enjoy themselves and play the impressive level of rugby they’re capable of.
“We’ve done everything we can to prepare for this game, and we’re just going to give it our best,” stated Eloff.
The March 28 match is scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff, and is available to watch live via Davenport’s webcast.