BOULDER, Colo. – After each of the four higher seeded teams were able to avoid upsets in the D1A Playoff’s opening round, Saturday’s Quarterfinals should provide plenty of excitement.
D1A’s top four-seeded teams had byes last weekend, and will now host their opponents who fought through the first round. The Quarterfinals will showcase two matches between teams that play in the same conference, and two interconference matches between schools that are fairly unfamiliar with one another.
Santa Clara @ Saint Mary’s – 5:00 pm (ET)
In a rematch of an April 12 match which Saint Mary’s won, 70-5, the two California Conference teams meet again with a spot in the National Semifinals on the line.
Santa Clara’s run to the round of eight has been nothing short of spectacular, and the Broncos thoroughly outplayed Colorado State last week in their 49-12 win. Still, Saint Mary’s has been playing rugby at an elevated level all season with a style that few teams can match.
What is even scarier about Saint Mary’s 65-point handling of Santa Clara earlier in the season is the fact that Head Coach Tim O’Brien rested the Gaels’ AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American Garrett Brewer and captain Cooper Maloney.
JJ Holmgren and Kyle Dunne provide offense in Santa Clara’s backline, but their efforts alone will not be able to counter Saint Mary’s seemingly endless list of playmakers.
Players to Watch:
Nicholas Schlobohm, Saint Mary’s – The sophomore wing had his breakout match against Cal, scoring a hat trick in Saint Mary’s 55-31 win over its Bay Area rival. Schlobohm then followed up that performance with two more tries in the regular season match against Santa Clara. His speed and power on the edge could cause problems for Santa Clara and probably every other team in the field.
JJ Holmgren, Santa Clara – Holmgren scored two tries last week against Colorado State, and Paul Keeler’s club will need an equally-impressive outing this Saturday to keep up with Saint Mary’s. He is also very accurate with his foot, but settling for penalty kicks will not get it done against the Gaels.
Colorado @ Life – 2:30 pm (ET)
The Buffaloes’ reward for beating San Diego State 22-17 in last week’s opening round of the playoffs is a trip to Marietta, Ga., to play No. 2-ranked Life University. Life will be Colorado’s toughest opponent to date, and the Running Eagles will no doubt present problems for Colorado.
The Buffs have a few large units in its pack, but keeping up with the Running Eagles’ forwards may still be an issue. Life’s Paris Hollis, OJ Auimatagi, Zach Walker, Jake Anderson and Glen Maricelli are all strong and experienced athletes who make up over half of the team’s starting forwards. Dealing with this group, both in set pieces and in the loose, is a tall task to ask of any team.
Colorado may stand a fighter’s chance if the forwards can create consistent, clean ball for the Buffs to swing it wide. The West Conference Champions’ backline, led by AIG All-American Sean Kilfoyle, is a group consisting of both speed and power. Inside center Brian Wanless is a load to bring down, and the former front-rower continues to improve each week.
Intelligence in and around the breakdown will be crucial for Colorado. Any penalty committed by the Buffs inside its own 40-meter line will be a near-automatic three points for Life, as captain Joseph Cowley is as good as it gets kicking between the posts.
Players to Watch:
OJ Auimatagi, Life – The hooker’s role on the team seems to get overlooked because of the wealth of talent on the roster, as well as the fact that Auimatagi missed time due to an injury. Life’s forwards captain not only plays with immense talent, but also plays with energy and passion on the pitch that elevates his teammates’ play, as well.
Brian Garey, Colorado – Life’s Joseph Cowley looks for opportunities to chip through defenses and let the speed around him chase down balls. At fullback, Garey must position himself carefully and punish Life in counter attacks if he can field kicks without oncoming pressure.
A live stream of the match can be accessed free at www.Rugby4LIFE.com.
Cal Poly @ Arkansas State – 3:00 pm (ET)
Last week, Cal Poly converted errors made by Wyoming into scoring opportunities on its way to a 46-7 rout. Arkansas State, a team with loads of experience, will not be handing the Mustangs any gifts.
Although Arkansas State has a deep and talented roster, the Red Wolves will not intimidate Cal Poly. Besides its match on the road against Saint Mary’s, Cal Poly also took a trip to Provo, Utah, to play BYU earlier this season. Those experiences should bode well for the Mustangs when they enter Jonesboro, Ark.
Arkansas State packs a heavier punch in its forwards pack than Cal Poly. It will be key for Cal Poly to avoid several consecutive crash ball phases, and look for balls to reach the backline as soon as a solid platform is set.
The Red Wolves’ backline is not littered with stars, but rather a consistent bunch, all of whom are capable runners. Forward momentum along with timely support should wear on Cal Poly and eventually generate scoring opportunities for the home team.
Players to watch:
Kirk Pretorius, Arkansas State – The 2013 AIG All-American has been missing from the Red Wolves’ starting XV for the majority of the season. In the team’s last match, a 21-20 win over Lindenwood, Pretorius returned to the lineup and the flanker immediately made his presence felt, scoring a first-half try.
Mikey O’Crowley, Cal Poly – The Mustangs’ forward pack proved it will not be easily pushed around by larger units when the group showed well against BYU in the scrum. O’Crowley, not especially large for a front-rower, plays with a massive amount of fire and energy. Cal Poly will need every inch of O’Crowley’s energy Saturday.
Davenport @ Lindenwood – 2:00 pm (ET)
Davenport needed a late try to beat a relatively unknown West Point side last Saturday. Now, the Panthers hope that their third encounter with Lindenwood this spring will play out differently than the first two Mid-South matches.
Back in March, Lindenwood beat Davenport, 27-16, and earlier this month used a late try to hand Davenport another loss. This Saturday, however, Lindenwood might be without two starting backline players due to an on-field altercation in the team’s most recent match. Still, Lindenwood’s roster is deep, and Gabe Farley could make an impact now that he has rejoined the team following his recent tour with the AIG Men’s Junior All-Americans.
Davenport’s roster should not be overlooked. Head Coach Kruger Van Biiljon’s team has talent all over the pitch, and valuable impact players off the bench, as well.
Players to watch:
Tamatasi Paogofie-Buyten, Lindenwood – This match features two teams with excellent players at the number eight position. Paogofie-Buyten is a big, athletic ball carrier who has improved as the season has progressed.
Dominique Bailey, Davenport – Not to be outdone, Bailey has a similar frame and skill set Paogofie-Buyten. A tough, hard-nosed runner, Bailey can run through a tackle, as well as run by would-be tacklers.
The winning teams from Saturday’s slate of matches will play in the National Semifinals May 3.