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D1A Quarterfinal Previews!

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D1A Quarterfinal Previews!

CWU rematches with BYU this weekend. Jacob Thompson photo.

OK, let's say it again—this is the most competitive D1A season, perhaps ever.

Really we were saying this in 2023, too, so maybe it's just the new normal.

What we found interesting this year is that the finalists for the Scholz Award—Rudy Scholz Award Finalists Named—are from four teams that might very well not make it to the semis. Heh ... you never know. That's the point.

Let's take a look at the quarterfinals this week:

Eastern Semis

Arkansas State at Navy
What Arkansas State has managed to do is battle through difficult times and pull out the game. But, as we talked about in the rundown of last weekend's games, Evan Roode put the team on his back at the end and that's why they beat Davenport and that's why he's a Scholz finalist. He's not the only gamechanger on the Red Wolves—Warrick Day is an excellent goalkicker, and they circle the wagons really well.

Navy has been at the top of the heap all year and DOR Gavin Hickie was especially pleased with his side's execution. They had a plan to handle the wind and they followed it—Hickie told GRR it was "one of Navy's best performances to date."

Hickie should expect the same weather this week. It's supposed to be windy in Annapolis this week, too. Navy gets a couple of players back healthy this week, too. The host Navy side should probably win. They are certainly favored, playing at home as they are. But they would be very smart not to assume it. And Roanin Krieger is a points machine who has set Navy records and will likely be needed again.

Live Stream (YouTube) Starts 11:45AM ET>>

Lindenwood at Life
Oh man these guys know each other well. There will be no surprises here. Usually these two play each other more than once. Last season, from mid-February to mid-April they faced off three times. This year it's been just the one time, a Februay 24 31-20 win for the Running Eagles in Marietta. This was a very tight, back-and-forth game into the second half. Life's halfback combo of Ishma-Ell Safodien and Bradley Crane, along with Jeron Pantor at fullback, have done well to manage field position for the Running Eagles, but they owe a massive debt to the forwards, led by Charlie Overton and Logan Ballinger.

It's the power and patience of those big guys that have opened up the late scoring opportunities that bring the Ws. That's how they got by Army. For Lindenwood, well they weren't overjoyed with some of their performances last week, despite the 26-0 shutout of Mount St. Mary's, the Lions perhaps wanted to dominate just a bit more. It really wasn't until well into the second half that you could have said "oh yeah, they've got this." Kudos to MSM, but Lindenwood would have wanted a bit more momentum.

Certainly this week they will need a big game from Scholz finalist Eduan van Heerden—usually a lock he's slotting in at No. 8 this week with Alejandro Martinez Tapia and David Scanlon at lock. This might turn out to be a tight five battle.

Live Stream (FloRugby) Starts 1PM ET>>

Western Semis

BYU at Central Washington
Last year ... of course we have to talk about last year ... a BYU team that had lost to CWU showed up in Ellensburg and blew apart the first half to win big and make the semis. It was an astonishing turnaround. Can they do it again? Certainly. Their last meetin ended 21-12 for CWU, but it was 14-12 until the final minute. Central Washington's defense and ability to manage what parts of the field they play in got them through.

But BYU can bust open defenses. Yes they lost to CWU, Saint Mary's, and Life, and yes they give up too many penalties. But they still average just under 50 points per game. With Scholz finalist Wyatt Parry a very smooth operator at flyhalf, Taysan Hammer scoring points with his boot and over the tryline (Parry and Hammer accounted for 33 of BYU's 48 points against UCLA), and a back row that covers a ton of ground, if they find some gaps, they can do it again.

Upset special? Maybe ... except these teams are too close to think any result is a surprise.

Live Stream (CWU Stream) Sarts 3:15PM ET>>

Cal at Saint Mary's
This is another game that's a tossup. This is another game that was a tossup the last time they played. This is another game that has history. Led by the overall brilliance of Erich Storti and Scholz finalist Dom Besag in the best midfield in the nation; with Inoke Waqavesi's vision and the tenacity and athleticism of a very fit and intelligent forward pack, Saint Mary's is always dangerous. More than any team in this playoff, they have the ability to score from their own tryline. Part of that is their willingness to got it a go. Certainly BYU can score from long range and so can Cal.

And that's the funny thing about this matchup—Cal has had a bit of a down series of results, and really that's almost laughable to say when you look at how they've done this season, and yes they lost to the Gaels, but that loss was by a try, and Cal was easily in position to win that game. So there's no expectation that this is a Saint Mary's coronation. 

Cal led Saint Mary's two weeks ago up until the final 13 minutes. And even in that last segment the game was tied and could have gone either way. But almost the entirety of the final 13 minutes were spent in Cal's end. The Bears just couldn't get out and, for the most part, couldn't get the ball. Saint Mary's didn't win that game because they throw caution to the wind and fling the ball around; they won by gaining, and keeping, possession at a critical juncture in the game. A very Cal way to close out a game.

This time? Yeah, who knows?

Live Stream (YouTube) Starts 3:45PM ET>>