Life University will be part of the CRC in June with a 17-12 defeat of the University of Utah Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.
Both teams were intent on playing their game. Life wanted to hit hard and play smart defense, while Utah wanted to showcase their open-field running.
Life's defense held off from the line a little, reasoning that the Utes could sidestep an overly-aggressive rush.
Utah took an early lead. Life was penalized when Cam Dolan used his hands in the ruck. Utah quick-tapped and spun to Winston Harris, who scored in the corner in the fourth minute. Don Pati hit the touchline conversion for a 7-0 Utah lead.
But they gave the initiative right back. The Utah restart rolled through the end zone and dead, giving Life a free kick at midfield. Life created an overload with a misdirection play, but didn't move the ball on a three-on-one and lost the ball.
Life then regained possession by stealing a set piece and shifting it the width of the field to wing Darrion Woodson, who made a strong burst into the try zone. Cariaga missed the conversion to leave it Utah 7 Life 5.
Directly after intermission, Life took the lead when Dolan banged through the Utah defense, evading two tacklers, to dot down in the corner.
Utah took the restart, then knocked it on and committed a penalty. Dolan again got the ball, drew the defense toward him, dished it to Cariaga, who passed it to Woodson. The young wing deftly stayed on his feet through multiple hits and scored Life’s second third try, extending the lead to 10 at 17-7.
Utah then brought on Thretton Palamo, the ace in its sleeve. Formerly the youngest player ever to play in a Rugby World Cup, Palamo tried hard to make an impact. This he did, winning the restart and getting the team go-forward. Lauti, too, made inroads, and several Utah players were very close to the line. A little white-line fever made the comeback excruciatingly slow, but eventually Palamo sidestepped his way over.
Now down 17-12, Utah mounted one more attack. They worked the phases effectively, but one more surge into contact coughed up the ball, and Life had what they needed to hold on.
It was an excellent culmination to a thrilling tournament. Any of the top eight or ten teams would do the CRC proud, but it will be a chiropractic school from Mariette, Ga. That will get its moment in the sun on NBC, and at PPL Park in June.