The South Independent 7s championship was always going to be won by Arkansas State or Life, right?
“We were the only two CPD teams in the Southern Independent Rugby Conference. We thought we definitely had an advantage of most of the teams,” said Life’s Cam Dolan, “but just like in any other sport, especially in 7s, anything can happen at any given day, so we knew we had to come our firing on all cylinders.”
The Running Eagles did just that, crushing Florida International, South Florida and Georgia Southern by a combined score of 128-12 in pool play.
The Red Wolves were equally dominant, blanking Florida State, Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State 124-0 in the other pool.
Arkansas State didn’t concede a single point until the tournament semifinal against FIU, which the Red Wolves won 47-12. Life had a more competitive game against the Seminoles, 26-5, but it was never in doubt.
Arkansas State and Life traded a pair of tries to open the final, but the Running Eagles were able to convert the kick after theirs, taking a 7-5 lead. In the final minute of the opening half, Life scored again, taking a 12-5 advantage into intermission.
Arkansas State climbed back to within a conversion after a Danie Swanepoele try at the beginning of the second half, and the two giants tussled for an upper hand for most of the remainder.
“The momentum shift probably happened about five times, and Life got the momentum there at the end of the second half, and played the majority of the rugby on our end of the field and just stuck the dagger in,” Arkansas State coach Matt Huckaby said.
The dagger came in the form of a converted Joe Cowley try at the death, giving Life the inaugural South Independent 7s title and an automatic bid to the first-ever USA Rugby college 7s national championship.
Huckaby said the Red Wolves were undone by their inability to get the ball to the perimeter.
“It’s a tale of two teams. Life is incredibly strong and skilled, and we’re really (fast), and we were really trying to get it wide and test them around there, but Life sucked up the chances we had by being extremely difficult in the breakdown. We couldn’t get it out clean. They knew what we wanted to do and they prevented it.”
Life’s undergrad program is in just its second fall semester. Since bursting onto the scene, the Running Eagles have made fast rivals of the Red Wolves, who won the only league 15s match between the two in the spring.
“It’s definitely a monkey off our back,” said Dolan of beating ASU. “Most of us are pretty good friends with those guys. When we’re together it’s close, but when we’re on the field, it’s win at all cost and win or go home.”
Though Arkansas State won’t receive an automatic bid to the national tournament, an at-large bid may still be on the table. The selection process for the at-large bids hasn’t been formally announced, but the Red Wolves hope that whatever it is, it leads to a invitation for them.
“It’d mean everything,” said Huckaby of a chance to play for a national 7s title. “My guys have worked hard. I feel like we’ve put our soul on the mat and represented rugby well enough. We wanted that to be decided today with a win, so we wouldn’t have to worry about it or leave it up to politics, but we’ll do whatever it takes to get in.”