STANFORD, Calif. – Life University and Saint Mary’s College, finalists from the 2013 D1A Final, will meet again May 10 for the 2014 D1A National Championship at Stanford University.
Life, winners of the grueling Mid-South Conference, is undefeated on the season and is coming off postseason victories against Colorado and Arkansas State. Saint Mary’s went 6-0 in the California Conference and also recorded impressive non-conference wins against Cal and BYU before beating Santa Clara and Lindenwood in the playoffs.
A year ago, Life overcame a slim deficit to overtake Saint Mary’s, 16-14, to take the D1A crown. Even so, Life’s backs captain, Joe Cowley, does not think last season’s Championship win over the Gaels give his team any advantage heading into the 2014 Final.
“Both of our teams have lost players. They lost Nick Wallace and Tim Maupin, and some big players for them,” said Cowley. “We lost Cam [Dolan] and Colton [Cariaga]. So, I don’t think there is any advantage.”
Playing in the deepest and most talented conference in college rugby, the Mid-South, Life has had to grind out several of its six league wins this season, relying heavily on a stalwart defense and the strong and accurate boot of Cowley.
Champion of the California Conference, Saint Mary’s has used its high-powered offense to routinely score over 100 points in a league not nearly as difficult to navigate through.
The two teams’ contrasting styles of play does not seem to worry Life, and the Running Eagles will continue to allow Cowley to notch three points on the scoreboard anytime the Gaels commit an infraction within its own territory.
“They might have a high-scoring offense, but we have a really good defense, and a great defensive coach in Scott Lawrence,” said Cowley. “So, our whole mentality on offense is to keep chipping away. Obviously, if the game ever got out of hand we’d make a kick to touch, win a lineout and score some tries, and we’ll make those adjustments in the game. But especially early on we’ll keep taking the points because they always add up.”
As far as making adjustments on the defensive side of the ball, Cowley was quick to note that the team always gameplans differently depending on who they happen to be lined up against that week.
“We take everything week-to-week…so we have something different and something we need to work on specific to our opponent,” explained the AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American. “But we just need to keep working hard, keep getting up off the ground and making tackles.”
As impressive as Cowley has been this season, Saint Mary’s Garrett Brewer has had an equally-remarkable season. The talented flyhalf initiates a potent Gael offense and is surrounded by game-breaking runners.
“I want to try and get them all involved early if I can,” said Brewer. “I want to get them to touch the ball in some sort of attack as early as possible, and I think that helps us. They are all lethal and can all do something with the ball in hand. It’s definitely nice having all of those weapons, and I’m confident in all of them when they catch the ball.”
More impressive than the damage the starting XV has done to opposing teams has been the play of the Saint Mary’s reserves off of the bench.
“This year our replacements coming on have done a fantastic job,” exclaimed Brewer. “It’s nice to know that the pace won’t slow down when the replacements come in. They’ve been stepping up and even bringing it to another level when they come on.”
Unlike last year’s final in Greensboro, N.C., Saint Mary’s will be the team with the more convenient distance to travel. The Gaels have the luxury of playing just a few Cowley kicks’ distance away at Steuber Rugby Stadium. The pitch is just a short drive from Saint Mary’s campus in Moraga, Calif.
“Stanford has a great facility,” said Brewer. “Not having to travel very far and being able to practice at home all week will be nice.”
The D1A National Championship rematch between these two great rugby programs will kick off May 10 at 7:00 P.M. The match will be streamed live and air on USA Rugby TV.