Penn State returns, Lindenwood books first trip to D1 Elite Final in Georgia

MARIETTA, Ga. - Perennial National Champion Pennsylvania State University has again reached a Final following a 40-7 defeat of Brigham Young University Friday at the 2017 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships, setting up a Women's D1 Elite National Championship contest against Lindenwood University for Saturday, May 6.

College 15s host Life University was kept scoreless in its Semifinal against the Lions from Missouri, and will play the second consolation match at Lupo Family Field Saturday behind the Women's DI Spring Championship consolation. The second day of competition will kick off at 8 a.m. ET, with the Women's D1 Elite National Championship Final scheduled for 5:30 p.m. ET on The Rugby Channel.

In a rematch of last year's D1 Elite Final at Saint Mary's College, the Nittany Lions took the field against BYU in Georgia in defense of their title. The Cougars, who were narrowly defeated, 15-5, in Moraga, Calif., were up to the challenge Friday, striking first from a fifth-minute scrum in attacking territory. Full back Jessica Peterson made the touch-line conversion for Mackenzie Olsen's opener, and BYU held onto the lead through Women's Eagles Tess Feury's 15th-minute penalty kick until 30 minutes into the game.

Penn State moved into the ascendancy in terms of possession as the game grew, and was rewarded in the 28th minute when wing Sophia Pyrz took the ball over the line. Scrum half Carly Waters padded the lead to 15-7 leading into the break with a quick tap-turned-try on the final play.

The Nittany Lions continued to take the points on offer with Feury's boot on target in the 50th minute, and Head Coach Kate Daley began to utilize her reserves with the 18-7 advantage. Internationally-capped Eagles in both XVs and sevens Kayla Canett, Penn State's starting fly half, scored back-to-back tries in the span of two minutes before the end of the game. After grabbing her first by stripping a BYU ball-carrier in the tackle, she chased a kick from the 70th-minute restart and used the positive bounce for the 40-meter run to the corner. Feury brought the final score to 40-7 with a penalty kick on the final play.

While Penn State received a bye through last year's D1 Elite Quarterfinals, a young Lindenwood team was knocked out by a varsity Life program in State College, Pa. The Lions got the better of the Running Eagles in a fall 2016 matchup, and went into Friday's Semifinal with momentum. Capped Eagle scrum half Annakaren Pedraza took a second-minute quick tap five meters from the try line and followed the ruck to send a bullet of a pass to No. 8 Dumeken Paogofie-Buyten, who beat the tackler over the line for the 5-0 lead.

Reserve Dana Olsen was called into action for an injury to starting wing Davon Thomas and doubled the lead after eight minutes on the pitch. Life fly half Whitney Wilson punished Lindenwood for an indiscretion in the 21st minute, but had the score nullified by All-American McKenzie Hawkins four minutes later for a 13-3 Lindenwood lead.

The 10-point advantage lasted through the half-time whistle before Hawkins extended the lead by six points with two penalty kicks in three minutes to open the second half. As the two were so evenly matches, neither squad could register a five-pointer in the final 40 minutes for a 19-3 final score in favor of the Lions.

The final test for a Lindenwood squad featuring Olympian Richelle Stephens will come against Penn State Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET Saturday in the D1 Elite National Championship Final. The match - and Women's DI Spring Championship and Men's DII and Women's DII National Championship Finals - will be broadcast live on The Rugby Channel.