(Marietta, GA) Tenacious defense and two first-half tries from BYU center Paul Lasike were enough to hold off a furious Life comeback, as the visiting Cougars escaped 26-20 to advance to their seventh straight national title match.
BYU kicked off to Life and drew first blood: prop Ray Forrester opened the scoring with a 4th minute try, as scrumhalf Shaun Davies slotted a difficult conversion for a 7-0 lead. Just minutes later, center Calvin Nell gathered his own kick and set up scrumhalf Cornelius Dirksen for Life's first try of the match, though a missed conversion meant the Running Eagles lagged at 7-5. BYU flyhalf Dylan Lubbe responded by snatching up an errant pass for a 60-meter run to the house, dotting the posts and bringing the score to 14-5.
Life held superior possession and field position for most of the match - but even playing in their own half, BYU's playmakers were irrepressible. In the 37th minute, center Paul Lasike found a gap in Life's defense and shot through for a try, setting up Davies' third conversion of the day. Three minutes later, Lasike exploited a Running Eagles turnover to break away for his second try, closing the half at 26-5.
The second half began with Life kicking off to BYU. Cowley booted the ball deep into touch, triggering a Life lineout inside of BYU's 22-meter. All-American no. 8 Cam Dolan made good use of the offensive platform to touch down for a try in the corner, bringing the score to 26-10 after a failed conversion. Soon after, the Running Eagles wheeled the Cougars' scrum on their own 5-meter to claim a turnover and the all-important feed. Life won the scrum and Dolan broke off to the blindside - an offload to flanker Andrew McNeil led to another try, narrowing the gap to 26-17.
Cowley, the leading scorer in D1-A (185 points in the regular season), nailed a 60th minute penalty kick to put his squad within a converted try of their first lead. Unfortunately for Life, it was to be the capstone of their resurgent second half - BYU's fitness and tenacity paid dividends as the Cougars kept ball in hand to contain the Running Eagles, 26-20.
BYU, perennial contenders, will take on upstart Arkansas State in the Red Wolves' first-ever appearance in the finals. ASU had two last-minute tries in their semifinal matchup against St. Mary's to win 31-17. (Life defeated ASU twice during the regular season: 30-14 in Week 5 and 17-13 in Week 10.)
The D1-A National Championship game will be held at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT on May 19th.
With their fifteens season over, Life has three weeks to shift gears before the CRC 7s in Philadelphia, June 2-3rd. The Running Eagles, victors of the 2012 CRC Qualifier, will compete in Pool A alongside Penn State, Wisconsin and Temple.
Tries: Ray Forrester, Dylan Lubbe, Paul Lasike (2)
Conversions: Shaun Davies (3/4)
Penalties: Shaun Davies (0/1)
Tua Laei, Will Taylor, Paul Lasike (Chris Wernli), Seki Kofe, Malosi Te'o; Dylan Lubbe, Shaun Davies; Mikey Su'a, Ishmael Tilialo, Ray Forrester (Joey Mount), TJ Allred, Kyle Sumsion, Kumi Tua'one (Chad Harker), Hynie Leaatoa, Ryan Roundy ©.
Life Running Eagles
Tries: Cornelius Dirksen, Cam Dolan, Andrew McNeil
Conversions: Joe Cowley (1/3)
Penalties: Joe Cowley (1/3)
*Joe Cowley, Kyle Grossheider (Takura Tela), Darrian Woodson, Colton Cariaga ©, Calvin Nell; Jake McFadden, Cornelius Dirksen; OJ Auimatagi, Glen Maricelli, Zach Walker, Tyler Salamon, Jimmy Lynch, Andrew McNeil (Paris Hollis), Paul Bester, Cam Dolan.*
Attendance: 1,240 (official)