Photos by Dennis D. Hawk
MARIETTA, Ga. – When the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked teams in Division 1A go head-to-head, especially two teams that are as familiar with one another as Life and Arkansas State, an epic battle down to the final minutes can often be expected. Life, however, unexpectedly had its way with its Mid-South Conference rival in a 34-7 rout March 1.
Arkansas State’s offensive attack, typically a unit applying pressure on opposing defenses, was unable to pose much of threat towards a suffocating Life defense. The Running Eagles captain, Joseph Cowley, did not seem surprised by the defensive effort his team put forth.
“That’s our number one thing – defense,” said the All-American flyhalf. “We’re well-drilled and we work hard on defense.”
Life relied on Cowley’s boot to give the team the early lead, as he connected on two penalties within the first 15 minutes of the match. Jake Anderson would eventually break through for a converted try before half, giving Life a 13-0 advantage at the break.
Still, the lead was far from insurmountable for Arkansas State and a second-half surge was almost expected. Instead, Life began to run downhill on the Red Wolves.
Paris Hollis opened the second half with a try. Hollis is part of a truly dominant front three for Life. The powerful prop is joined by hooker Glen Maricelli and prop Zach Walker, all three of whom were All-Americans in 2013. The power, skill and experience of Hollis, Maricelli and Walker in the front row will keep teams on the back foot all season.
The Running Eagles would rumble to a 34-0 lead before Arkansas State finally got itself on the board with a converted try in the 78th minute.
Life lost a number of influential players due to graduation following its 2013 D1A National Championship. Even with Director of Rugby Dan Payne recruiting and developing talent year in and year out, the number of quality rugby players that have departed since the National Championship left many wondering if Life could pick up where they left off.
“We lost Cam [Dolan] and Colton [Cariaga],” Cowley said. “They left a legacy behind and we all want the same end goal as last year when we won. Colton left a good standard and we don’t want to drop the standard, we want to keep raising it.”
The 27-point victory over Arkansas State in Life’s Mid-South opener proves the Running Eagles do indeed have the talent to repeat as National Champions in 2014. Still, the team knows there is more work to be done and the impressive start only drives Life to work harder.
“It sets the tone for the whole season,” said Cowley. “Now we have our benchmark and we’re just going to constantly improve week in, week out with our performances. We have a starting point now and we can’t dip, we have to keep getting better.”
The Mid-South Conference is exceptionally talented and no teams will have time to celebrate or dwell on previous weeks’ outcomes. Arkansas State (1-1) will try to get back to its winning ways against Davenport (0-0), while Life (1-0) hosts Lindenwood (0-1) March 8.