Rugby team claims first ASU national championship title since 1970; four Red Wolves receive tournament honors
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Arkansas State student-athletes have won gold at the Olympics, captured conference titles, played in Super Bowls, and worn scarlet and black on many of the world’s athletic stages, but ASU's men’s rugby team secured a national championship Saturday.
The Red Wolves completed a day of winners as they were crowned national champions following the finals of the 2012 Emirates Airlines USA Rugby College 7s at Penberthy Recreation Sports Complex in College Station, Texas. Capping off a 6-0 run over the course of two days, ASU defeated Life University, 21-7, in the championship of the Men’s Cup to capture the title following ASU’s Sun Belt Conference football team’s 45-0 afternoon win over Middle Tennessee State in Liberty Bank Stadium.
The feat marks the second national title for ASU. The 1970 football team won national college division trophies from the Associated Press, United Press International and the Washington Touchdown Club with a perfect 11-0 record.
“Our players could not be happier after winning today,” said ASU’s interim head coach Alex Houser. “The guys played just great. They never let up and really controlled the game late. We are all so proud to represent Arkansas State University and be able to bring this national championship home.”
ASU players played front and center for the Red Wolves and were rewarded for their efforts, including center-flyhalf Zac Mizell who was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Mizell is a 6-3, 190-pound senior from Keller, Texas, who is a member of the 2012 Men’s Collegiate All-America (MCAA) touring teams in August. Mizell was selected out of 20,000 collegiate rugby players who were scouted.
In addition, ASU players team captain Shaun Potgieter, a 6-2, 215-pound junior prop from Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Dean Gericke, a 6-2, 205-pound senior wing/center from Jonesboro; and Zinzan Elan-Puttick, a 6-0, 180-pound sophomore flyhalf from Bloemfontein, South Africa, were all selected as All-Tournament Team members.
“Zac, Shaun, Dean, and Zinzan are all deserving of the awards they received, but it was a total team effort,” continued Houser. “Everyone has been working very hard and their efforts paid off by defeating three very talented opponents in today’s tournament play.”
Houser was especially pleased with the play of Elan-Puttick, as he is new to the program.
The Red Wolves advanced to the finals after knocking off Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, 31-12, in Saturday’s opening round, followed by a 45-0 win over Delaware. During Friday (Nov. 3) pool play, ASU knocked off North Carolina State, 29-5; defeated Middlebury, 38-0, and California, 10-7.
Arkansas State’s Dylan Carrion scored in the match against Life with a try in the second minute. The Red Wolves went on the offensive following a Life penalty, and Carrion sneaked past defenders for the short-range score. Elan-Puttick converted to give ASU the 7-0 lead.
Life attacked twice again trying to score. Calvin Nell was able to help Life retain possession and scored. Joe Cowley converted, knotting the game at 7-7.
Zac Mizell stepped through the Life defensive line and found Potgieter who went the rest of the way for the answering ASU score. Elan-Puttick converted, putting the Red Wolves up 14-7 at intermission.
Off of the ensuing scrum, Elan-Puttick turned a broken play into a dazzling try. Instead of sending the ball wide, Elan-Puttick penetrated a hole and scooted in to give ASU the lead. He converted to make it 21-7 with just four minutes to play.
“We were going to bounce it back to the forwards, because they were already out there, and usually Zac Mizell does it, but he was being double teamed because of what a great tournament he’s had,” said Elan-Puttick, “and then Dylan gave me the ball and we were kind of under pressure, so I just thought I’d take a crack at it.”
“I was really impressed with our defense this weekend, and Life, they’ve done that to us the last few times we’ve played them in the 7s games,” continued Houser. “I just kind of wanted to put pressure on them and force them into some uncharacteristic errors.”
The national championship final marks the first time Arkansas State has ever beaten Life in 7s. The Running Eagles are the only team to ever beat ASU in 7s.
“We were very talented last year. I think we were slightly better this year, but we had all the makings to be able win this tournament last year,” said Houser, “Especially for the guys that played last year, I think they definitely were extra motivated, and the new guys came in and really, really fed off that and contributed to it, for sure.”
“I guess it almost feels better to beat Life for the first time in so many times, but the national championship is great,” said Mizell. “And to do it with these guys, we’ve worked so hard for the past three months together, so that’s really the best part of it.”
The team will return to campus, finish the academic semester, and take a short rest before gearing up for the spring season.
“The guys are really excited right now and deservedly so,” Houser commented. “They have worked very, very hard and they came here and won a national championship. We’ll take a break and then come back ready to go back to work in January.”
ASU kicks off the spring 2013 schedule back in College Station to play Texas A&M on Feb. 2. The schedule is as follows:
Feb. 2 — at Texas A&M
Feb. 6 — Arkansas
Feb. 28 — North Carolina
March 9 — Life
March 16 — Davenport
March 30 — at Davenport
April 13 — at Life
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