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BYU Heads to 1st National Final

  • 24 Apr 2016
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In its first season as an extramural sport, BYU advances to the DI Elite final.

 

The first DI Elite finalist has been named. BYU defeated Central Washington 24-10 in today’s semifinal and awaits the Penn State vs. Life verdict to fill out the May 7 national championship picture.

 

BYU and Central Washington entered today’s match after relatively easy quarterfinals Friday. The Cougars had defeated Stanford 70-5, and the Wildcats had topped New Mexico 114-0. As soon as those final whistles sounded, the coaching staffs led the recovery effort while players mentally prepared for a guaranteed tough game in fewer than 24 hours.

 

“It was such an emotional game,” BYU coach Tom Waqa said of the semifinal. “Everything was on the line. We were going up against a familiar opponent that was stronger than us. But we kept our composure. We made our tackles – that mattered most – ran with purpose, and every single person did their job.”

 

Central Washington played with the gale-force winds in the first half, and a nicely placed kick to the corner put the Wildcats in scoring position. Play remained in BYU’s half for the first five minutes, and an attacking scrum saw No. 8 Jenny Johnson pick to the short side and eventually set up wing Mckenzie Pusch for a one-on-one. The Canadian stiff-armed her opposite and scored in the corner, 5-0 Central Washington.

 

The wind really was the third opponent on the pitch. While Central Washington did well to use it to its advantage in the opening minutes, the rest of the game saw errant kicks go straight into touch, straight to receivers or blocked by a fast-rushing BYU defense. The Cougars’ Jessie Beck at fullback and Ali Smith at flyhalf did a better job of finding the corner and hitting unguarded territory.

 

The wind also aided in a multitude of ball-handling errors, and combined with a healthy penalty count, the game was plagued by stoppages. That aided BYU in the scrum, where there was a clear mismatch.

 

“That’s a big part of any team’s offense, and it was important for us to take that away. It negates some player form,” Waqa said. “I’m just happy that our defense came through. We tackled and tackled, and that frustrated their offense. We had to get into that mental part of the game. That’s where we want to dominate.”

 

Central Washington was particularly adept in poaching the tackle, and that returned some possession to the home side. Close to 20 minutes in, BYU was pinned on its goal line and awarded the scrum. Kicking for touch was risky considering the wind, so No. 8 Sia Skipps tore around the short side. Her two pursuers accidentally collided, which allowed for a longer run – so long that Skipps was unsupported and Central turned the ball over. But then a series of penalties, lineouts and some porous fringe defense saw the Cougars into Wildcats territory. A big, barreling run from inside center Jordan Gray got everyone moving forward, and the Eagle eventually dotted down for her team’s first try, 5-5.

 

The next two tries occurred in similar fashion. A BYU break set up a series of fast, stabbing runs a couple passes off the ruck, and then the forwards scored from short range. Props Rebekah Hebdon and Emily Briggs did the dive-over honors, and a conversion from Beck gave the Cougars a 17-5 lead into the break.

 

The Cougars were very happy to have held the Wildcats to five first-half points, and now they had the wind behind them and used it, especially later in the game, to relieve pressure and tick time off of the clock.

 

But BYU still had one more try to score. Central Washington flyhalf Leah Ingold attempted to clear her lines, but the wind grabbed the kick and killed it in the air. The receiver sprinted away from the pack, got past fullback Cassidy Meyers but let a two-on-one go unrealized. After a couple of possession changes, BYU took a tap penalty in scoring position. Central center Nate Serevi did well to smother a hesitant Smith, but the flyhalf somehow managed to get the pop pass to Gray. The Eagle quickly moved the ball down the line, where it ended in Analise Arnold’s hands for the corner try. Beck made the sideline kick for the 24-5 lead.

 

Only on a couple of occasions was Central Washington able to showcase its crisp, wide-open offense that featured in Friday’s match. Some of that frustration was unforced errors, and some was an eager defense led by Gray, Justina Grubb and loose forwards Skipps, Grace Taito and Amber Ah sue. But the potent offense couldn’t be entirely subdued and a breakaway from Meagan Curtis put Central Washington in striking distance. A quick-tap penalty allowed Serevi to eventually dummy-pass her way into the try zone, 24-10.

 

There were about 10 minutes remaining, and the host sharpened up as BYU retreated into game management mode. The game ended with some pretty, fast-phase play building toward BYU’s try line. But time was called after a knock-on meters from the try zone.

 

“That was our fourth game in two years. They’ve won three, and this is our first,” Waqa said. “It was a stressful game to coach, but I knew the girls wanted it more. For us to be in our first national championship, that means a lot to our seniors, to everyone. We’re on cloud nine right now, and we’ll soak in the win this week. Next week, we’ll bring it to ground level so we can prepare for whoever wins the other semifinal.”

 

BYU will face the winner of Penn State vs. Life University, which will be contested Sunday in State College, Pa. The Running Eagles defeated Lindenwood 35-15, while the Nittany Lions earned a forfeit win over Indiana University.

 

In the consolation game, Stanford inside center Madda Wilson scored six tries against New Mexico for the 64-0 win. Flyhalf Olivia Bernadel-Huey kicked seven conversions.

 

BYU 24

Tries: Gray, Hebdon, Briggs, Arnold

Cons: Beck 2

 

Central Washington 10

Tries: Pusch, Serevi

 

 

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