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Iowa State Holds Off Sam Houston State to Make CRAA D1AA Final

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Iowa State Holds Off Sam Houston State to Make CRAA D1AA Final

Nolan LeBreck bulls through for Iowa State. Photo Kara Geisert.

Iowa State is in to the CRAA D1AA final after beating Sam Houston State on a beautiful day in Des Moines, Iowa.

Much like last season's meeting between the two teams the Cyclones started fast, using flyhalf Justin Johnson’s boot to play in Sam Houston’s 22. ISU kept up the offensive pressure and eventually prop Ryan Snider picked up from the base of the ruck and was over. 

Johnson added the extras to give the Cyclones a 7-0 lead in the 6th minute.

The Cyclones received the restart kick and again immediately put Sam Houston deep in their end. This time it was No. 8 Liam Cleary who broke the gainline and then the tryline. Johnson was accurate on the kick once more and it was 14-0 after 10 minutes.

Playing in front of a raucous pro-ISU crowd (Des Moines is only 45 minutes from Ames), Sam Houston State went to work. They drew infringements in the breakdown to work down into Iowa State’s end before the BearKats’ pack drove Preston James  over from close range. The kick from Dag Dowuona was good to make it 14-7 in the 14th minute. 

Iowa State’s restart then went out on the full and after a scrum center, SHSU launched an attack, and eventually hooker Garrett Ros offloaded to center Trace Biltz who took the ball the distance. The conversion was wide though so after 17 minutes it was 14-12 and the BearKats had the momentum.

The BearKats kept the foot on the throttle as almost immediately flyhalf Lane O’Brien found flanker Jackson Rauch who broke and scored in the corner to give the BearKats a 19-14 lead in 20th minute.

After a wild start to the match, things appeared to settle down until a ball popped out of the scrum on the blindside and Sam Houston scrumhalf Drake Torno raced down the sideline to extend the lead to 24-14 and silence the crowd. With their backs against the wall after surrendering 24 straight points in 15 minutes, the Cyclones went to their captain and lock Alex Geisert, who drew a crowd in the midfield but found flanker Zach English streaking to his left. English took it 40 meters to revive the Cyclones, Johnson again converted and now it was 24-21 with SHSU leading at 30 minutes.

The Cyclones went back to what had got them a 14-0 lead and immediately pinned Sam Houston deep in their end. They kept the pressure on and finally fullback Ian Klein intercepted an errant pass and found No. 8 Liam Cleary for his second of the match to give Iowa State the lead once again 28-24 in the 34th minute.

With the crowd now fully back into the game and halftime approaching, ISU center Drew Guinn broke the gainline and found Cleary again to give the Cyclones a 35-24 lead at halftime.

The Cyclones rode the momentum into the 2nd half and went to work, pounding at Sam Houston’s goalline. SHSU stopped, them, however, and when the Cyclones were pinged for not releasing, Lane O’Brein recognized the Cyclones were not set to defend and tapped quickly. He launched a pass across the pitch to Trace Biltz, who took off for 80 meters and raced in. Dowuona slotted the extras and it was 35-31.

With the Cyclones looking like they were going to squander another double-digit lead, wing Tristan Pelkey jarred the ball loose on impact and Drew Guinn was there to immediately recover and ship it wide to Ian Klein. Klein took off from midfield to score in the corner to give Cyclones two-score lead at 40-31.

From there, both teams exchanged body blows for the next 10 minutes trying to get the other to crack again. With substitutes waiting to come on for the last 20, Iowa State worked a nice set-piece move to put Ian Klein over again, with Johnson adding the extras to make it 47-31 with 20 minutes left.

With the crowd behind them and their coaches imploring they to only play defense, Iowa State worked to make frantic tackles while Sam Houston continued to attack from all angles. A clearance kick by Sam Houston was pressured and did not leave the 22 which Iowa State worked to the corner, putting over wing Marcus Teed. Now it was 52-31 and time was running out for SHSU.

Sam Houston responded with a try off a beautiful chip from O’Brien to Stokley, which ended with Stokley returning the favor to put O’Brien over. The kick was no good, however, and it was still a three-scorer game. The Cyclones were able to draw a penalty and Johnson wisely chose to go for posts to kill what little time was remaining. His kick was good and that sealed it, 55-31.

Liam Cleary was named MVP of the Regional Final by CRAA’s Josh Sutcliffe because of his three-try performance. Iowa State will play the winner of this coming weekend’s Western Regional on May 4th at Aveva Stadium in Houston for the D1AA National Championship.

“First off, hats off the everyone that made today happen,” said ISU Head Coach Ant Frein. “A truly beautiful day of rugby and one of the most entertaining matches I can remember. Coach Serrano and his boys played on of the most dynamic matches I have ever seen, scoring more points on us than we surrendered in all of league matches total. I’m really proud of the work the players and staff put in to make this possible, losing the players we lost last year and getting off to a slow start is never easy but I think it showed today that lose lessons learned in August and September were valuable as the guys were able to ‘get off the mat’ when they found themselves down 10 after being up 14. It’s a testament to the lack of egos and focus on doing the job we have in our locker room, for example Liam Cleary was not slated to start at No. 8 until this week and to go out and have the performance he did was incredible.”

As for Sam Houston State, they are now expected to play a Florida DIAA team in a bowl match at the CRAA Finals Weekend. Head Coach Ramon Serrano was proud of the comeback but rued that early hold SHSU dug for themselves.

“We weren’t consistent with our game play,” said Serrano. “We made some mistakes and Iowa State capitalized off of them. We were able to find success with our pace of play along scoring off of big plays in 1st half. But ISU met our physicality. Frustrating day overall but glad we were able to represent our conference and state. More work to be done.”

Iowa State 55
Tries: Snide, Cleary, English 3, Klein 2, Teed
Convs: Johnson 6
Pens: Johnson

Tries: Blitz 2, Torno, Rauch, James
Convs: Dowouna 3