by Brett Anker
Arkansas State will welcome the Navy Midshipmen to Jonesboro, Ark. for the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup semifinals on Saturday. It will be the first ever trip Navy will take to Arkansas State and a chance for both teams to book their first ever ticket to a Varsity Cup final.
The teams met in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Varsity Cup, with the Red Wolves coming away with a 31-24 road victory. ASU got off to a big lead but Navy made a furious second half comeback to make it a game. Arkansas State knows that the Military Academies always push for 80 minutes and last year was a prime example of that.
“We have to keep the intensity up throughout the entire game. You know that Navy, like any Military Academy, is not going to stop playing until the final whistle,” ASU coach Shaun Potgeiter said of the lessons learned from last year’s meeting.
The Red Wolves, however, will have the luxury of playing at home this year. Most of the country was anticipating Central Washington would win the game and Arkansas State would travel to the West coast for a tough road game.
“The last 25 minutes of the game last year the travel really caught up to us and I am glad that we do not have to make that long trip to Navy,” said Potgeiter “We are excited to have them come to play us here and the let the locals experience a Military Academy.”
Coming off a big victory against Central Washington, Navy is brimming with confidence. Down 10 points with 10 minutes to play, the Midshipmen tied the game and won it in overtime 27-24. Navy is excited for the rematch with ASU, believing it is a different team than last season.
“I think we just keep going the way we are. We made a lot of changes since last year. We have revamped our pattern, revamped our play style and are adding on to it each week,” said Navy captain Conor McNerney.
The Central Washington matchup provided a good tune up for the game against ASU. Both teams play a similar brand of physical rugby and Navy will have to bring it’s A-game once again to reach its first ever finals.
“We expect big, physical guys just like we had against Central Washington. We will have to fight tooth and nail to get to the finals,” said Navy coach Mike Flanagan.
Navy reached the semifinals in the first three years of the Varsity Cup and came up short each time. Arkansas State reached the semifinals for the first time last season and lost. As both teams are seeking their first ever Varsity Cup final appearance, one of them will finally break through.
The game will kick off at 1:00 PM CDT on Saturday.