LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Two teams conclude their Mid-South season Saturday, April 1 when undefeated Life University travels to Davenport University to take on the Panthers, while No. 5 Lindenwood hosts No. 19 Clemson. The contests will be the final conference games for Life and Clemson, while Davenport and Lindenwood will complete the 2017 Mid-South season next week in Grand Rapids, MI.
#12 Davenport vs. #2 Life
The two longtime Mid-South rivals are in the midst of two very contrasting season. The Running Eagles have continued to roll through conference play unscathed. The Panthers, meanwhile, have struggled to a 0-4 start in the Mid-South.
Life has already put a ribbon on yet another Mid-South title, but that doesn’t mean the team isn’t preparing for Davenport with its usual grit and determination.
“It’s a process and we are in pursuit of our best performance,” said assistant coach Colton Cariaga. “Our men are seeing and starting to understand the situational pictures, and at this point, it’s about execution.”
After winning its first three conference games at home, the Running Eagles have only upped their game since hitting the road. First, they dismantled Clemson in South Carolina, 81-12, then went to Lindenwood and stopped the Lions in their tracks, 32-10. Last week’s win against Lindenwood was supported by an in-form Sam Cowley on the wing and the return of recently capped Eagle Alex Maughan, who finds himself squatting down come scrum time at hooker as opposed to his typical position of prop.
“Our staff is glad to have Alex back competing and we are sure his teammates are too,” Cariaga noted. “He adds experience to the set piece and good ability in the loose. Additionally, we look to each student-athlete to lead in some way, with veterans such as Alex shouldering most of that responsibility. That’s big for us.”
Despite Davenport’s rocky season, Life understands the challenge ahead. In fact, a closer look at the Panthers’ results and it’s easy to see why the Running Eagles aren’t taking its final Mid-South test lightly.
Against Clemson, Davenport led by six points in the 80th minute. However, a try and successful conversion on the game’s final play by the Tigers ripped the victory from the claws of the Panthers. In losses to Arkansas State and Lindenwood, Davenport held a halftime lead against the Red Wolves and was tied 10-10 to the Lions at intermission. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the second halves of those contests got away from them and now they have a goose egg in the win column to show for it.
“Davenport is a very good program with impressive personnel,” Cariaga, who has competed against Davenport as both a player a coach, said. “They have a good mix of athletes, talented footballers and big, physical guys. They can attack in different way – we have to be proactive.”
#5 Lindenwood vs. #19 Clemson
The Saturday, April 1 meeting between the Lions and Tigers is a classic rebound game. Both teams are coming off performances they wish they could have back. For Lindenwood, an early 10-3 advantage against Life was a dream start. However, the Running Eagles outscored the Lions 29-0 the rest of the way to earn a 32-10 win.
“The Running Eagles did a great job starving us of possession in the second half,” complimented Lindenwood Head Coach Josh Macy. “It’s positive to see us playing with the Running Eagles for periods of time, but we’re putting in the work to make sure we can keep the pressure on for a whole match.”
A healthy squad still might not have been able to slow down an Arkansas State team firing on all cylinders, but injuries and subsequent changes in combinations didn’t help in Clemson’s recent 76-24 defeat to the Red Wolves.
“We fielded seven different starters versus Arkansas State than we did against Davenport,” noted Clemson Head Coach Steve Lynch. “While I believe we have significant depth and part of building a program is having a seamless transition from starter to reserve, significant roster changes in D1A versus three top-ten teams has had a great affect on the scoreboard.”
Three Tiger starters will come off the shelf and return to the starting lineup this weekend, including full back Andrew Dommel and captain Dylan Goulding.
“I’m looking for them to shore defense up this week against Lindenwood,” Lynch said.
Meanwhile, the Lions are passionately waiting to get healthy, as well. 2016 Mid-South Forward of the Year Wes Parker has been out since the loose forward suffered a partially torn UCL Feb. 25 against Life. The loss of such an influential players has in no way benefitted Lindenwood, but the coaching staff has been pleased with the reinforcements eating up Parker’s minutes.
“We’re fortunate to have the depth for players to step in and keep the level up,” Macy said. “Colten Hernandez and Gabe Romero have both stepped in and played good active minutes. The physicality at this level demands you have these guys. We’re thankful for them.”
Tomorrow’s meeting will mark the first time the two programs have gone up against one another, but Macy knows a thing or two about Clemson after beating them last season while leading the AIC Rugby program.
“When I saw Clemson, that was Steve Lynch’s first semester,” explained Macy. “He’s done a lot of good work with those guys since then. They played hard for 80 minutes, were really comfortable defending the midfield and challenged ever set piece. I know they’ve worked hard on their skills, fitness and teamwork this year, and I think their results are showing it.”