LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Going winless and finishing last in the Mid-South doesn’t make you a bad team. Davenport wasn’t able to prevail in any of its four matches against Life and Lindenwood, but still holds the sixth spot in the Canterbury D1A Top 20. On paper, the sixth-place ranking would appear to come with an opening round home game in the D1A Playoffs, but the last-place Mid-South finish puts the Panthers on the road against No. 11 San Diego State.
“The guys understand that we play against high quality rugby programs week in and week out, and that our current record doesn’t necessarily define our potential entering the national tournament,” said Davenport Head Coach James Wood.
Like Davenport, which lost two matches to No. 3 Lindenwood by a combined nine points, San Diego State has had some close encounters, as well. Against No. 20 Santa Clara, the Aztecs outlasted the Broncos by just two points, and beat No. 13 Cal Poly by a single point.
“It’s somewhat of a mixed bag in that we showed our failure to execute at times, but then a willingness to work and claw back into games,” San Diego State Head Coach Alex Lichtig said of his team’s narrow victories in the California Conference. “As a coach, one can only hope that we have learned from those scenarios and will turn in a complete, 80-minute performance this Saturday when it counts most.”
The Aztecs might not have the luxury of a late-game comeback against a powerful Panthers side. Davenport reached last year’s D1A Semifinals, but lost four All-Americans, including now-capped Eagle JP Eloff, to graduation from last year’s unit. Still, the Panthers have plenty of dangerous weapons – especially in the back row, where Dominique Bailey and Carl Smith line up.
“Although Davenport may not have come out on top in games against Lindenwood or Life, they were competitive and a couple of those matches could’ve easily gone either way,” noted Lichtig. “Their size and athleticism make them a formidable opponent, and create difficult matchups for our side.”
San Diego State wouldn’t have finished second in the California Conference without some pretty good players of its own. Ari Fink reads the game well from his full back position, and can make defenders miss. Up front, junior prop Adahir Aguilera is a big help in the set piece, but also enjoys making the hard meters in traffic with ball in hand.
The Aztecs will have the benefit of playing at home April 16, but it might not be as big an advantage as one would expect. Davenport has been forced to play its final two conference games in multiple inches of snow, and the boys from Grand Rapids, Mich., are eager to try a more running-style approach under the warm sunshine of San Diego.
“We’re definitely looking forward to the potential for decent weather, and an opportunity to play rugby on a dry surface,” Wood said.
The winner of Saturday’s match between the Aztecs and Panthers will head to Marietta, Ga., to face No.1-ranked Life University April 23.