Life welcomed Davenport to the Mid-South with a 53-0 defeat in Marietta, Ga. Saturday. The Running Eagles poured in most of their points in the opening half, using very quick ball to keep the Panther defense on its heels and the other side of the gainline.
“We put in a couple of little things that we’ve been working on in the forwards. We just got a lot of good ball in the first half. Nothing we got was that easy. They were in front of us. I thought their defensive structure was strong,” said Life coach Dan Payne.
“I think we played over 75 phases of defense ourselves. That’s the most we’ve done in a long, long, long time. The score wasn’t really accurate, I think, as far as the game itself. I just came up out of our locker room and our guys have been through a battle.”
While Davenport did go through several phases at times, they did so without gaining much ground, as Life’s quick line speed was suffocating.
“Usually we focus on defense first on most of the goal settings and objectives that we set, and [defensive coach Scott Lawrence] does a phenomenal job,” said Payne. “It’s pretty luxurious to have him as our defensive coach, and he can specialize on it. He’s one of the top coaches I’ve been surrounded by in my history as a coach, and the guy has put into action what he puts down for them and he gets good results.”
Davenport flyhalf JP Eloff struggled to get his clearance kicks into touch, and Life’s back three of Gerson Blaise, Joe Cowley and Takura Tela counter attacked well, so most of the first half was played in Davenport’s half of the field. Davenport did extend some possessions deep into the attacking end a few times, but poor lineout play and some turnovers in contact stymied any scoring threats.
The second half was much closer, as Davenport shored up its defense and started making some offloads on offense. Instead of the first receiver in the forwards getting knocked back in the tackle, he’d dump inside to another forward who would break the gainline. The Panthers seemed to grow up a bit throughout the course of the game.
“In fairness, it’s a step up for them and [Davenport coach Kruger Van Biljon] would say it. They adjusted to the tempo and physicality and gradually you could see them adjust and settle into it more,” said Payne.
“I think in the second half that’s why the score was a lot closer. It wasn’t as much us playing poorly. I think they were just able to get up to speed and keep doing the things they wanted to work well on.”
Payne a former international back rower, was impressed by the play of Davenport openside flanker Ryan Hargraves. He and Eloff helped keep the score as close as it was throughout the contest.
“I was really impressed with a lot of their players. I haven’t had as much fun watching an opposition flanker as I have watching Hargraves play today,” said Payne. “He’s just a grinder and did a ton of work. It’s in his blood. That kid’s got it. When people talk about ‘it’, it’s in him. He’s a competitor. It was fun to watch him play.”
Davenport returns home to lick its wounds and play the Chicago Lions next Saturday, while Life looks ahead to an always competitive rivalry game against Arkansas State.