by Brett Anker
With a 22-7 win over Navy, Arkansas State will make its first ever appearance in the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup final. The Red Wolves stymied the Navy attack all afternoon and with a couple of timely scores, booked a date with Cal for the final.
Arkansas was on the receiving end of a ton of rain over the weekend and made it incredibly sloppy and difficult to use hands. Both teams were forced to play very direct and on the periphery, it looked to favor Navy. Although Arkansas State was unable to use its normally expansive game plan, the Red Wolves won the break down area and manufactured points.
“We planned to throw the ball around a little bit more but with the conditions we had to adjust,” ASU coach Shaun Potgeiter said of the nasty weather.
The first score of the game came midway through the first half via Sione Fangaiuiha. The talented center scored two of ASU’s tries on the day and was a rock on the defensive end of things.
“Sione and Zac (Young) controlled the game in the backline very well. They had some really strong runs, made great yards. They had a very good game carrying the ball and on defense Navy were playing very direct in the channel between the 10 and the centers but he and Zac put in a strong defensive effort,” Potgeiter said of his tandem.
After ASU extended the lead to 10-0 with a well-struck penalty from Valentin Balande, Navy began to work its way back into the game. The Midshipmen methodically worked their way into the opposing 22 and earned a five-meter scrum. The ASU defense forced a loose ball but a fortuitous bounced landed right in Navy hands and the visitors scored a converted try to cut the deficit to three.
“We played some really good defense on the goal line. One of our guys put in a good hit and the Navy guy dropped the ball backwards. The next guy was in the right place at the right time so I was not really discouraged about the try they scored,” added Potgeiter.
With less than five minutes remaining in the half, Young used a clearance kick to put Navy under pressure. The Red Wolves cornered the Navy player deep inside his own territory. Navy attempted to return the kick to relieve some pressure but ASU charged down the kick. Tabo Maree scooped up the ball and went in for a try. The score seemed to go against the run of play and gave ASU some confidence going into the break.
“I think that was a huge momentum booster for us going into halftime. The guys were really pumped up after that try and went into the locker room with a lot of energy,” Potgeiter said of the score.
Arkansas State would cement the game early in the second half. Fangaiuiha ran on to a Young grubber kick to dot down and extend the lead to 22-7. The Red wolves tightened up their defense, ultimately blanking Navy in the second half.
“We have put a lot of emphasis on defense the last two weeks. It paid off against UVU and we used that momentum in this game. We planned for them to play directly and the weather conditions prevented them from doing much else. We had some nice double tackles and put in some good hits. Our defense was really good all day,” said Potgeiter.
With the win, ASU will make its first appearance in the Varsity Cup final. The Red Wolves will take on a Cal, who defeated Penn State 35-14 in the other semifinal.
The final will take place on May 6, at Stevens Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University. It will be aired live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET.