GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It was a scrap for the ages the last time around and it will be another scorcher on Saturday when #1 Arkansas State takes on #7 Davenport in Grand Rapids.
D1A newcomers Davenport punched the Red Wolves in the mouth when the two squared off on March 16 and forced Arkansas State to come back late to win when the two faced off a few weeks ago.
If not for the heroics of Dale Bates who scored the go-ahead try at the death to lead his team to a 31-25 comeback, Arkansas State would still be reeling from a loss.
FOOL ME ONCE…
According to two-time All-American Arkansas State fly-half and co-captain, Pat Sullivan, his team may have been sleeping on Davenport a bit.
“We did a poor job of executing last time. We weren’t as focused as we needed to be. This time we just have to play the ASU rugby we’re used to playing,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan's Head Coach, Alex Houser, agrees and said his team may have seen the Davenport at Life result two weeks before and maybe didn't see Davenport as a real threat. That's a mistake that won't be made twice.
Houser understands there is a steep learning curve at the highest college level. Giving a nod of respect to Davenport's coaches Kruger Van Biljon and Phillip "Thabu" Eloff, Houser knew the Davenport team that ran out against Life in their D1A debut wouldn't be the same team his squad would play a few weeks later.
"Knowing Kruger and Thabu, I knew [Davenport] would be much more prepared against us. There is a huge improvement once you get a wake up call like they got at Life," Houser said, noting that a big loss is treated as a valuable learning experience for quality coaches and players.
Van Biljon, after the last encounter said, "ASU beat Life University last week and we learned our lesson that first week against Life of what it takes to play at this level. We've made great improvements from two weeks ago and we can only get better.”
BATTLE OF THE TENS
The game in Grand Rapids will put on display not only two top teams in the country, but two of the best #10s in the college game, Sullivan and J.P. Eloff of Davenport.
The two couldn't look any more different. Eloff stands at 5'10" and doesn't approach 200 lbs., soaking wet, while Sullivan is 6'4" and 225 lbs. But, both are All-Americans and have incredible kicking abilities, making the penalty count this weekend crucial. Both can nail penalty kicks from 40+ meters without breaking a sweat, a skill that does wonders in keeping the opposition honest.
Houser is aware of the threat Eloff poses to any opposition, and his charges now know first hand what he can do.
"You want to make sure JP isn’t the guy that beats you. When you’re in your own end, you have to be excellently disciplined because he’s such a good goal kicker," Houser said.
If ASU gets the win, they cement a spot in the D1A Quarterfinals. If they don't, things will get very interesting down the stretch. Davenport would have to win out to shake things up. Crazier things have happened.