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Navy rugby beats Life, 27-17, to advance to the national finals

Vaseline 2 months ago

With just minutes remaining in Saturday’s national semifinal between top-ranked Navy and No. 2 Life at the Prusmack Rugby Center in Annapolis, the visitors threatened to score.

A try wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but the Midshipmen were determined not to let the Running Eagles cross the goal line.

“Don’t give up a single inch of Navy. Finish strong,” shouted team captain Ben Haugh.

Life made some progress, but eventually the ball turned as Navy held on for a 27-17 win to advance to the Collegiate Rugby Association of American Division IA national championship for the second consecutive season.

Sophomore fullback Roanin Krieger had 12 points with three conversion kicks and two penalties for Navy (17-1), which played excellent defense. Junior prop William Webb, freshman center Jake Cornelius and freshman prop Ian Bullock all scored tries for the Mids.

Coach Gavin Hickie was understandably emotional after the hard-fought win. Navy has been chasing a return trip to the national championship game since the start of the fall season by beating Notre Dame in Dublin in August.

Navy will pursue its second straight national title against third-ranked St. Mary’s College of California on May 4 at SaberCats Stadium in Houston.

“It’s been an epic journey from Dublin so far. We’re going back to Houston and that’s nice because this year it’s a completely different team,” Hickie said. “What makes this win so special is that we extend the amount of time we have with these seniors; We want to maximize that. It’s really important for our younger guys to realize that it takes hard work and that nothing is guaranteed.”

Both coaches thought set pieces were the difference. Navy were virtually flawless in terms of lineouts, while Life struggled to execute in that department. Hickie highlighted senior flanker Vaughn Schmitz for single-handedly disrupting the Life lineouts.

“Our lineouts were very accurate. Our lineout maul was very accurate,” Hickie said. “Vaughn Schmitz stole lineouts the entire game. That robbed them of possession and was crucial to our success.”

Haugh seconded that assessment. “If you can’t win a lineout, you can’t win a game. Our defense was really strong on the lineouts,” said the senior 8-man.

Navy center Jake Cornelius finds an open running space on his way to a try.  (courtesy of Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics)
Navy center Jake Cornelius finds open running space en route to a try against Life Saturday in a national semifinal. (Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics)

Life briefly led 10-7 after senior Karch Hoffman scored a try and classmate Bradley Crane made the conversion kick in the 28th minute. Navy responded with a strong finish to the first half, with Krieger booting a penalty in the 33rd minute to tie the score and Cornelius scoring a try just over five minutes later to put the home side ahead for good.

“We converted points almost every time we got inside the opponent’s 22, which is hugely important. I think our kicking game was good and we were patient,” Hickie said. “We asked guys to give it everything they had and from one to fifteen they did just that today. Everyone wants to upset us and we will continue to rise to the challenge.”

Hickie praised the overall play of Cornelius and senior fly half Landon Opp on offense. He specifically credited Bullock and freshman flanker Aidan Gerber for leading the defense.

“Aidan was tackling like a man possessed, while Ian came in and rocked number 13 early, which set the tone,” Hickie said. “Our defense has been very good all season. That is an important part of our foundation. We are a very difficult team to score against.”

Hickie acknowledged it wasn’t a perfect performance and said the Midshipmen have work to do over the next two weeks to prepare for St. Mary’s, which defeated BYU 48-31 in the other semifinal.

“Normally we are a very disciplined team. I was a little disappointed with our discipline in general in terms of the number of penalties we gave away,” Hickie said.