Semifinal Preview: First Meeting of BYU, Life
Provo, UT–After beating the UCLA Bruins 103-24 in front of a capacity South Field crowd last weekend the BYU Cougars advance to take on Mid-South champ Life in Marietta, GA in the collegiate D1-A semifinals this weekend.
The match-up against the Running Eagles of Life will be the first for BYU as Life makes it’s first semi-final appearance in the history of their program, while the Cougars will be involved in their 8th straight semi-final appearance.
BYU will be somewhat familiar with the surroundings and coaching staff of Life as the Cougars have been involved with both during the Cougars 2009 national championship run.
The 2009 regional qualifier and quarterfinal for BYU were both played at the Marietta school’s rugby complex and the Cougars emerged victorious to advance to the semi-finals against an up-start San Diego State University led at the time by current Life head coach Dan Payne.
In 2009 BYU beat SDSU coming from behind to make a similar feat against Cal Berkeley and win their first national championship.
Despite a number of players who were young in 2009 still being on the Cougars’ roster today BYU head coach David Smyth knows traveling to Life and going up against a strong team will be a tall order.
“There are a few similarities from 2009,” Smyth said, “But as you look at it closely this will be a very different experience. Dan [Payne] has done a great job building their team and they are the envy of many aspiring collegiate programs with the amount of support their school provides. We expect nothing but a hard-fought game.”
The Running Eagles currently sit 9-0 on the season having run rough-shod through their competition combining to score 546 points and only allow 55 points in 8 conference games.
Most impressive for Life is their defensive consistency holding the lowest per-game total of any D1-A semi-finalist over the regular season by averaging less than 7 points a game.
Life also boasts offensive fire-power in D1-A’s two top try-scorers (Junior No. 8 Cam Dolan w/ 14 tries & Sophomore fullback Joseph Cowley w/ 12 tries) and the top points-scorer (Cowley w/ 185 points).
The BYU offensive output has looked slightly higher than Life’s by averaging over 75 points per conference game, but the Cougars have seemed at times to let their defensive performances lapse giving up a little over 13 points per conference contest.
And a 24 point effort by quarter-finalist UCLA last weekend, which was the most points scored by any team against BYU this season, puts the need for BYU to emphasize their defense going into a semifinal match with one of D1-A’s top scoring sides.
“We know what we need to fix,” said BYU captain Ryan Roundy, “Life is a very good team with some very good athletes and our defensive effort will have to be the best we’ve had all year for us to come away with a win.”
Despite the defensive proficiency of his team Life head coach Dan Payne feels his team will have to be on point to corral the Cougars offensive abilities led by what Payne says is a core “group of seniors.”
“I have enjoyed watching this group of BYU seniors,” Payne said, “This is a tremendous opportunity for our program and we relish the chance of being able to share this competition with such a storied program steeped in tradition.”
BYU travels to Marietta with the hope of returning to familiar grounds at Rio Tinto Stadium for a potential 7th straight championship appearance on May 19th.
But BYU’s Smyth knows the path BYU has been on will get all the more difficult on Saturday at Life.
“This will be the toughest game we’ve faced this season thus far, hands-down.” the BYU coach said, “We’ll be in an up-hill battle as soon as we step on the plane on Thursday. Our boys will be up against it on and off the field, so we’ll have to have be on our best if we want to have a chance at a win.”
BYU and Life kick-off for the first time this Saturday in the highly-anticipated D1-A semifinal at 1.30pm ET.
The game will be streamed live online at www.liferunningeagles.com. Live scoring updates and information on the team as they travel to Marietta, GA can be found on BYU’s Twitter account and Facebook page.