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PROVO — After beating the UCLA Bruins 103-24 in front of a capacity South Field crowd last weekend, the Brigham Young University Cougars advance to take on Mid-South champ Life in Marietta, Ga., in the collegiate D1-A semifinals this weekend.
The matchup against the Running Eagles of Life will be the first for BYU as Life makes its first semi-final appearance in the history of its program, while the Cougars will be involved in their eighth 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 and are still 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 of Life 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 eight conference games.
Most impressive for Life is its 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 firepower in D1-A’s two top try-scorers (Junior No. 8 Cam Dolan with 14 tries and sophomore fullback Joseph Cowley with 12 tries) and the top points-scorer (Cowley with 185 points).
The BYU offensive output has looked slightly higher than Life’s by averaging more than 75 points per conference game, but the Cougars have seemed at times to let their defensive performances lapse, giving up a little more than 13 points per conference contest.
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 its defense going into a sem-ifinal 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 seventh straight championship appearance on May 19.
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 uphill 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 1:30 p.m. ET.
The BYU Rugby program is one of the school's most winning sports teams with just 19 losses in over 20 years. BYU Rugby won the 2009 Collegiate National Championship and has promoted 28 players to All-American status. For more go to byurugby.com