by Brett Anker
Arkansas State withstood a late second half surge from Navy to punch its first ever ticket to the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup quarterfinals. Despite a valiant comeback attempt, Navy will miss out on its first Varsity Cup quarterfinal in four years.
The Red wolves could not have gotten off to a better start on the road. Prop Kuda Makuvire dotted down twice in the first 15 minutes for a 14-0 lead. Zac Young broke through the Navy line for third score and a penalty from Zinzan Elan-Puttick extended the lead to 24-0 in the 35th minute.
“We came out firing in the first half. Moved the ball around well. Defended well. We did prepare all week for Navy’s attack so things worked out pretty well in the first half,” said ASU coach Shaun Potgeiter.
Navy finally got on the board in the forty-minute mark. After Arkansas State had a player sent to the sin bin, the Midshipmen spent five minutes inside the ASU five-meter line. After several penalties, Ben Johnston punched it in. With the conversion, it was 24-7 going into the break.
Navy looked to continue the momentum from the end of the first half. Despite being down a man, however, Young scored his second of the day for the Red Wolves and extended the lead to 31-7. It appeared that this score would end the hopes of a Navy comeback.
The Midshipmen refused to give in, however, and started mounting a comeback The Navy work rate and fitness paid dividends later in the second half, starting with a try from scrumhalf Gardy Lebon. Minutes later, the Academy found the try zone again. Jake Martin got Navy’s third of the half and with about 10 minutes to play off a loose ball and with 10 minutes to play it was a one score game.
“We expected them to come out in the second half firing. Just try to come back and get themselves back into the game, which they did,” Potgeiter said of the Navy comeback.
“It speaks to who we are. It is the Naval academy. A bunch of young men just filled with character. We were not happy with our first half performance and that the score line was against us and we had to come out and make some changes,” Navy coach Mike Flanagan said of his team.
Despite the comeback from Navy, Arkansas State managed to weather the storm for the remainder of the game. Navy was pressing inside ASU territory in the waning moments but a knock-on ended the possession and the game.
“The guys really showed guts to hold them out of the try zone at the end,” Potgeiter concluded.
Arkansas State will take on BYU in the semifinals next weekend.