The top-ranked Navy men’s rugby team (17-0) secured a trip to the national championship game after beating second-ranked Lindenwood (15-2) with a score of 12-10 in the Division I-A Elite Playoff Semifinals on Saturday. This will be Navy’s second time playing in the national championship and the first since 1994. Navy will face the winner of third-seeded California and fourth-seeded BYU from the west bracket. The national championship match will be held on Saturday, May 6, at Avena Stadium in Houston, Texas.
Director of rugby Gavin Hickie expressed his pride in the team’s accomplishment, saying, “Before the game, we counted that 13 of our 23 players on today’s roster hadn’t played rugby before coming to the Naval Academy. This team now only being a win away from a national championship is a testament to their desire, commitment to the team, and lessons learned from rugby for their future careers. These men are absolutely outstanding, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The game started with Lindenwood executing a 50-22 kick in the third minute, granting them an advantage in the territory. However, the Mids committed an infringement, allowing Lindenwood to take a penalty kick just beyond Navy’s 10-meter line. Lindenwood nailed the kick in the fourth minute to take a 3-0 lead.
Navy responded with a try from Lewis Gray in the 13th minute, with Roanin Krieger making a difficult conversion kick from the left sideline to give the Mids a 7-3 lead. Lindenwood maintained possession in Navy territory for the next 14 minutes, but turnovers and Navy’s kicking game kept the score at 7-3. The Mids pushed the Lions back to their defensive zone following a deep kick by Landon Opp.
In the second half, Navy held possession inside Lindenwood’s 22-meter line less than two minutes in, but a knock-on penalty stopped their march to the try zone and granted the Lions a scrum. Lindenwood won the scrum and passed the ball out to the left sideline where its ball carrier broke two tackles to run the ball inside Navy’s 22-meter line. Dale Sturdifen sprinted across the pitch and used a perfect angle of pursuit to make a try-saving tackle. The Lions attempted to make a quick pass following the tackle but committed a knock-on penalty to allow the Mids to reclaim possession.
Navy held possession inside Lindenwood’s 22-meter line again in the 55th minute, but the Mids were penalized on their maul formation, giving the ball back to the Lions. A knock-on penalty negated a scoring opportunity for Lindenwood after it charged into Navy’s 22-meter zone. The Mids sent the ball back into their offensive zone on a kick, but the Lions gained back the territory on a big kick return. Navy committed a penalty, giving Lindenwood a chance to narrow the score to 12-10 with a successful kick.
With just a few minutes remaining in the game, Lindenwood pushed for a try but was ultimately unsuccessful, allowing Navy to secure the victory and a trip to the national championship.
“We’re heading to Houston, and that’s the main thing. Today wasn’t our prettiest performance, and we have a lot to work on in terms of playing in the right areas of the pitch,” said Hickie. “However, we had a 100-percent success rate on our lineouts and scrums. We put a lot of pressure on our set piece, but came through because the guys were outstanding.”