A good struggle between Life and Lindenwood today /// Photo: KJ Feury
Life and Lindenwood more than answered the call for a competitive DI Elite quarterfinal today. After lopsided decisions (Central Washington 114-0 vs. New Mexico, BYU 70-5 vs. Stanford) in the western portion of the bracket and a Penn State forfeit win in the east, Life battled Lindenwood to a 35-15 victory and berth to the semifinals.
Lindenwood was the aggressor early on, holding onto possession and forcing Life to play defense in its own end.
“I think it was excitement,” Life coach Ros Chou reflected on the beginning of the game. “But then we got into our groove, turned over the ball and got out of our end.
“That was another point of emphasis,” the coach said to difference-makers in the match. “We came up with big turnovers in our red zone. Three times Lindenwood was knocking on the door and we somehow came up with the ball.”
Once Life used some strategic kicking to relieve some pressure, No. 8 Darian Lovelace crossed for the opening try and 5-0 lead.
“Once you get on the board, that settles the nerves,” Chou said. “That was a really big help in calming things.”
Life took a 17-0 halftime lead, as senior leaders and flankers N’Keiah Butler and Nicole Strasko scored tries, and scrumhalf Madison Ohmann kicked a conversion. Strasko’s score originated from a pushover scrum.
“I was really happy with the scrum and their ability to drive,” Chou said. “We’re often the smaller pack, so we’ve really been emphasizing good technique. On the other end, we were able to apply some pressure when they had the ball – different angles on them to turn them a bit and give our flankers a better angle on defense.”
The teams traded tries in the second half, with the Running Eagles outscoring the Lions 18-15. With the exception of Strasko’s second try, which started with a stolen scrum, the scores came out of the backs. Lindenwood put some nicely worked tries into the corner through wing Jennese Bacon and outside center Hannah Gauthreaux – scores that exposed some weaknesses in Life’s defense and require review before Penn State. Lions scrumhalf Annakaren Pedraza made good use of a stolen scrum as well and accounted for the Missouri team’s final five points.
“We tried to emphasize the line speed we’d see at this round,” Chou spoke to preparation. “At first, we were keeping the ball too tight, and it took a little longer than I would have liked to realize that we needed to adjust our depth and change our angles to stretch the field.”
Life wing Deshel Ferguson finished two offensive series in the try zone and an Ohmann penalty afforded the 35-15 win.
Life is now in full recovery mode, as it prepares to play a fresh Penn State on Sunday. Despite some wear on their bodies, the Running Eagles see the benefit of the double-header weekend.
“Before the game, our team got together and talked about how we’re slow out of the gate sometimes,” Chou said. “This first game gave us a chance to work out those kinks and we’ll use it as a learning tool for Sunday.”
The winner of Penn State vs. Life will play the winner of Central Washington vs. BYU in the DI Elite national championship May 7.