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R7CC Men: Life Win in OT, USD and USC WIn Too

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R7CC Men: Life Win in OT, USD and USC WIn Too

Trophy Time for Life. Alex Goff photo.

Sometimes tournaments and events get a little help from the rugby gods, and it seemed that way Sunday at the R7CC.

Certainly one of the largest and most vocal fan groups was for Life University. This seems logical given that the R7CC was held at Kennesaw State, just down the road from Life's home in Marietta, Ga. And since the Life teams, both men and women, were in the final matches, they all stayed to see it through. Fifth Third Bank Stadium was not full, but it was loud.

Men's Gold

Life and Lindenwood men's teams had looked solid throughout the men's competition, but they didn't dominate, at least not on Day Two. Lindenwood defeated Clemson 36-0 in the first game of the tournament, Arizona 43-5, and Penn State 52-0 to win their pool and garner the top seed. Life shut out Cal Poly 28-0 and Air Force 17-0  before downing Indiana 26-12 to make it a 3-0 day as well.

They were the only 3-0 teams of pool play, but that didn't mean there were no obstacles in wait. A more determined-looking Arizona team faced Lindenwood on Sunday and while the Lions won, it was 24-12 and not an easy time at all. Davenport, big, powerful, physical, and maybe not flashy, bashed and crashed by Central Washington 12-7. CWU, with their outstanding Jack Wendling out with a knee injury and only able to help on the sidelines, were left ruing the loss of a player who is a game- and tournament-changer.

Life raced past a plucky Cal Poly side, with the Law brothers, Darius and Donovan, along with Julian Roberts, relishing the space created by their teammates.

And Saint Mary's, sparked by Eddie King and Erich Storti, and an impressive defensive stand that ended with a long-range try iced UCLA 21-5. Like Central Washington, UCLA was missing an international-class player, this time Lucas Lacamp. UCLA was a good team without him, but had Lacamp not been with the USA 7s team, he could have helped fire the Bruin attack.

So on to the semifinals.

Davenport's game was about bottling up teams and using their powerful runners to force teams into contact. So Lindenwood sent Nic Hardict II out wide and two tries from the former Penn HS standout staked the Lions to a 14-0 lead. The Panthers replied through big man Ethan Howard, but Rhy Smith's two tries put the game away for Lindenwood 28-14.

The Life vs Saint Mary's semifinal was full of drama. A love chip-and-chase from King set up JT Hackett for a typically wild Gaels try. But a poor chip later in the half (this is called a harbinger) allowed Life to partially block, counter, and put Philani Simamane through the tiniest of gaps.

The second half began with the teams locked 7-7. King then put Saint Mary's ahead. It was a little bit of a weird one as Inoke Waqavesi's long pass out to King hit the ground and then rolled forward. The referee wisely let play go on and King nabbed the ball and raced over. The ball was sent backward—the fact that it ended up well forward of Wagavesi's position after it hit the ground was immaterial. Try Saint Mary's.

But Life wasn't out of it. A long period of defense perhaps made Saint Mary's impatient—certainly the intentional knock-on was unnecessary and put them down a man. Life struck, putting Roberts over and, with the conversion, the Running Eagles led 14-12. Soon after that Seimamane put on a little shake-and-bake show and iced it. 19-12 Life.

The final was what you'd figure it would be. It was physical, and intense, and end-to-end. Lindenwood is more likely to put a stranglehold on the game and play power rugby when things get tight. Life has usually looked the more traditionally-sevens of teams. But both had taken a little bit from the other's playbook. Evan Williams continued his excellent run of form for Lindenwood and Hardrict had emerged as a true outside danger.

Life ran out to a 19-0 lead, with a brilliant little loop move putting Simamane over-just. Julian Roberts burst up the middle. Then Donovan Law broke through and was just dragged down. He wisely laid the ball back and Simamane was there to pick up and score.  

When they needed to, Life could bash it up the middle and their forwards, but they combined that physicality with mobility. They got massive defense Orrin Bizer and some key plays from Levani Mgaloblishvilli. 

But Lindenwood came back in the second half. Hardrict sidestepped two defenders off a scrum. Stephin Alberts picked up off the back of a ruck 50 meters out and was gone. So it was now 19-12 with almost no time left. Lindenwood camped out in the Life 22, probing and biting. Hardrict looked for all the world over for the try but pulled back, hoping his side could score closer to the posts. Finally they made it with Rhy Smith getting as close as he dared. Williams dutifully slotted the conversion—19-19 ... sudden death overtime.

Lindenwood won the toss and received and started to work their way out of their half. Life defended patiently, opting to put all seven up on the line. So there was no sweeper—maybe a kick would work. Darius Law saw it coming and the kick was more of a stab-through, not a high ball. Law charged it down, swooped in to pick it up, and took off.

"All I did was, I saw him get the ball and I said go!" said Law's twin brother Donovan. And go he did. 

In a team game like rugby players are often admonished to always look for support and be prepared to pass. But sometimes you just need to put your head down and run. Darius Law ran, hard, and scored, and LIfe had their championship.

It was a tough loss for Lindenwood, but as a spectacle it could hardly have been any better.

Gold Bowl

Perhaps the strangest road in the tournament was that of Clemson. The only non-D1A team in the Gold, they embraced the challenge to play these tough games.

"We wanted it," said Head Coach Troy Hall, even after getting slammed by Lindenwood in their opener. But they got a win over Penn State on Saturday and then on Sunday edged Texas A&M to move to the Bowl semis. There they dispatched Santa Clara to make the Bowl Final.

Penn State, for their part, had righted a shaky ship to beat Indiana 19-14 and Navy 26-21 to make the final and try to get their revenge over Clemson.

It was perhaps one game too many for Clemson. Jesse Capriotti's interception opened the scoring and Brian Stella was superb in turning defense into attack and finding open men. Penn State prevailed 26-5.   

Men Red

Harvard enjoyed a superb run to make the final but were undone by a University of San Diego team that eschewed the more free-wheeling, avoid-contact approaches to 7s. With several of their most impactful players being forwards, Los Toreros decided to play with that strength. They had players to burn you on the outside, but if you guarded against that, they'd go for the body blows, and win.

San Diego had been able to beat Nebraska in the semis, a Nebraska team that had ridden defense and strong teamwork to the semis. They then thundered past Harvard 28-14, led by Michael Ramos, to win the Cup.

Cal State Long Beach made it a Gold Coast two-fer with a 29-0 shutout of Oregon State in the Bowl Final.

Men Blue

University of Southern California made it a three-fer for the Gold Coast, beating a very effective Memphis side in the final. USC's scampery, ball movement style tested teams' fitness. As outline by their coach Steve Stagg, several of their players arrived early Saturday morning for the games, having had to take a redeye from LAX to get there. That they were tired and a bit bleary-eyed in their first game was understandable. That they still won 15-12 over Furman was astoudning. They built from there.