GRAND RAIPDS, Mich. – Life wrapped up its second consecutive undefeated Mid-South season after getting past Davenport 20-13. Amazingly enough, the seven-point margin of victory is the largest of any from the five Mid-South matches played this season.
In a game described by Life Head Coach Tui Osborne as “very tight and very physical,” the Panthers did well to limit Life’s opportunities in attack. Led by AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American prop Angus MacLellan, Davenport’s pack outmuscled the Running Eagles in the scrums, and rarely allowed Life to set a platform – even when it was awarded the put-in.
Davenport, which has carried a lead in each of the three conference matches it has lost, lit the scoreboard first when fly half JP Eloff knocked through a penalty just two minutes into the match. The Panthers held Life scoreless for more than 20 minutes, but that was before Life’s Blane Mcllroy took over the match. The Irish-born fly half equalized the game with a penalty of his own, and gave his team the lead when he converted his own try just 10 minutes later.
The Running Eagles held their 10-3 lead until the 60th minute when Eloff banged through his second penalty of the match to draw his team within four of the No. 1-ranked team in D1A. However, another Mcllroy penalty and a try scored in the corner by Zach Miller seemingly put Life up for good at 20-6 with less than 10 minutes to play.
Davenport showed grit by fighting until the end and Eloff capped off a superb afternoon with a try and conversion to bring the game within one possession, but time simply ran out on the Panthers.
This season has proven there are no easy victories in the Mid-South, and Life’s fourth and final win was even more impressive given the increased reliance on freshmen. Five first-year players suited up with the first XV, in part due to the absence of centers Harley Davidson and Jack McFadden and scrum half Marcus Walsh. The trio of talented back line players are currently nursing minor injuries.
“It’s something we’ve had to deal with, and the guys are coping well,” Osborne said of playing a number of freshmen due to injuries. “Some moments in the game they’ll revert back to habits you don’t see from our more veteran players, but we fought through it.
“But the young guys work extremely hard, so it’s not for a lack of effort.”
Currently ranked No. 1 in the Canterbury D1A Top 20 and with no matches remaining on its schedule until the playoffs, Life looks destined for one of the first-round byes given to the top four teams in D1A. Being a top-four seed means the Running Eagles won’t play again until the second round of the D1A Playoffs April 25.
“There are four weeks before our next match, but there won’t be any rest,” assured Osborne. “They’ll have a few days off for spring break, but then we’re back into it. Now it’s time for the next level and we have to prepare for it.”
Osborne predicts that preparation will include plenty of work in the set pieces, as well as a few scrimmages against Life University’s senior men’s side.
As for winning another Mid-South Conference title and doing so in undefeated fashion, Osborne was quick to admit it was not easy and even thanked the coaches and players of Davenport and Lindenwood for creating such a competitive environment.
“This might be the best conference competition-wise with the teams we have,” Osborne complimented. “It’s definitely the competition we want in our division.”
The final Mid-South match will be played April 11 when Davenport hosts Lindenwood.