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Navy Through to D1A Final After Win Over Life

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Navy Through to D1A Final After Win Over Life

Navy vs Life in the D1A semifinal. David Hughes photo.

Navy advances to the D1A final for the second year in a row after the Midshipmen defeated Life University 27-17.

On a day of perfect weather and only a light breeze, the day centered around kicking, goalline defenses, and some key big players.

The kicking started early and both sets of kickers were heavily involved—Bradley Crane and Jerron Pantor for Life; Landon Opp and Roanin Krieger for Navy. Both teams were desperately trying to force a mistake in the opposing zone.

Pantor was able to execute a nicely-weighted 50-22, but they misfired on their timing and Navy stole that lineout—more on that later. Navy responded with a 50-22 of their own. Their maul was held up and Navy went wide. They were stopped, but illegally, and took another lineout. This time, a rather fractured maul went over in the corner. Krieger, who has been brilliant off the kicking tee all season, nailed the touchline conversion for a 7-0 lead.

Life found some go-forward after that, pressuring Navy in their 22 after a big run from Logan Ballinger and a shifty snipe from Darius Law. The Mids' goalline defense was excellent, laying in starling tackle after startling tackle. Eventually Life was forced to take points on a penalty and Bradley Crane slotted the goal.

From the ensuing restart Krieger kicked the ball through the dead-ball line. That led to a scrum at the middle of the field and Life attacked nicely from there. Inside the Navy 22 once more Life varied their attack, going vertical, going wide, and changing directions. They went wide with it to wing James Hoffman and he burst into the corner. Navy's defense raced in to try to hold Hoffman up, but the was able to touch it down in the corner. Crane converted from the touchline to put Life ahead 10-7.

Navy replied and Krieger slotted a goal to tie it up again and that's how it seemed like the first half would end.

But as the half came to an end Navy once again attacked off the lineout. They mauled it, were stopped, but off the back No. 8 Ben Haugh was tackled. While he released, got back to his feet, and regathered, the Life defense was spreading out. Haugh realized there was no one in front of him, and he surged over. Krieger was good on the kick and Navy took a crucial 17-10 lead into halftime.

The second half was once again a kicking contest early, and Life spent most of the first seven minutes inside the Navy 22. Once again the Navy goalline defense was superb. Once again Life was stymied.

Both in the first half and in the second, key runs from center Jake Cornelius gave the Mids some space from which they could kick clear. With Life struggling to win their lineouts cleanly, even kicks to touch were fraught with problems. They couldn't guarantee that, after a penalty, taking the lineout would result in Life possession. Navy was able to vault flanker Vaughn Schmitz up high in their front pod and Life couldn't throw over him.

Navy saw some chances fall away, too. About 15 minutes into the second half they were working the phases when Life center Darius Law intercepted a pass and offloaded to Philani Simamane to hoof the ball down the field. Pantor was on his horse and chasing. He looked for all the world like he would score if the bounce was kind. It was not. In fact, for Life it was enormously unkind. It bounce backward, past Pantor and while Life somehow retained possession, they were scrambling a little.

Life ran a play that didn't quite click and the ball was on the ground. Navy flanker Aidan Gerber reacted immediately, toeing the ball ahead and, as it rolled and bounced into the Life half, toeing it ahead again. Life recovered the ball but Gerber was there to make the tackle. Ball popped loose, and hooker Ian Bullock, who had galloped 90 meters to get there, was the man to pick up the ball and score.

From threatening to score to seeing Navy score, Life had seen the rug pulled out from under them. Certainly it was a massive hustle play from Gerber and from Bullock.

Soon after that Krieger slotted a penalty to make it a three-score game. But Life wasn't done. A big break from flanker Seth Kramlich. Support was there through Pantor but he was tackled high by Drew Baublitz. Was he in the act of running in to score a try? Referee Cisco Lopez said yes, and it was a yellow card for Baublitz and a penalty try for Life.

They were in with a shout.

But the Navy defense held. Being able to clear their lines, steal the lineout, and clear their lines again, helped a lot. Life had to resort to tapping on penalties and Navy was only too happy to make tackles. They held on 27-17.

For Navy, their tackling behind the gainline was a huge factor. Both teams had good moments with kicking the ball, but a couple of crucial kicks from navy found the ground before Life players could get there. That was a factor. Schmitz and his work in the lineout, the impact from the Navy bench, and the Midshopmen work rate all served the book Navy's place in the final.

For Life, losing only twice, and both close games against Navy, will sting, but they have to know they enjoyed an impressive season. They will rue a couple of key skill breakdowns and perhaps three really good scoring opportunities where they got no tries.