BY HUGH BROWN
LAS VEGAS — The college 7’s tournament held in conjunction with the 230-team Las Vegas Invitational Tournament served as a qualifier for the final spot in the College Rugby 7s Championship which will be held in Chester, Pa., on June 2 and 3.
The Utes made a deep run in the tournament, but fell to Life University in the final at Sam Boyd Stadium 17-12.
There were two conferences each made up of 32 teams in eight pools. On Thursday the Utes had trouble with a Southern Illinois side before winning 28-12. Head coach Blake Burdette said the team did not play well and would have a tough time against Davenport on Friday if they did not pick up their game (Davenport had crushed Southern Illinois 42-0). Utah also played Regis College and won handily 33-0. On Friday morning the Utes met Davenport (the No. 1-ranked 15s team in DI-AA) and could not get their offense untracked, falling in a tight match by the score of 10-7.
The top two teams in each pool advanced to Cup play on Friday. In the Utes’ conference this was undefeated Central Washington, UCLA, Davenport, and Stony Brook and once beaten Utah, Cal Poly, Stanford, and Yale.
Utah played Central Washington, which won the tournament last year, and jumped out to a 14-0 lead before winning 24-7. In the quarterfinals on Saturday the Utes led UCLA at the half 21-0 and won the match 21-5.
This put them in the semifinals against Davenport. The Utes scored first, starting to the right and then recycling to the left where Tonata Lauti made a break and then fed Winston Harris out wide for the try (5-0 Utah). Davenport pressured for the remainder of the half, scoring off a penalty tap in the corner to make it 5-5 at the half.
Davenport had a 50 yard breakaway to start the second stanza, but the runner was hauled down from behind by Don Pati just short of the goalline. Despite some dropped balls resulting in three scrums on their own 5-meter line, the Utes held their Michigan adversaries. With three minutes to go, and a number of Utah forwards injured, coach Thretton Palamo entered the match. Palamo tapped through a penalty, dodged several tackles, and raced 95 meters for a try and a 10-5 lead.
When Utah threatened again it appeared the game was over, but a Davenport back intercepted a pass and took it 80 meters for a score. The successful conversion put the Panthers ahead 12-10 with time running down. Davenport drove toward the Utes end-zone once again only to be stopped short. Pati grabbed the ball out of the resulting ruck and began a furious movement in which every member of the team touched the ball before it was returned to Pati who scored a last-second try. Lauti’s conversion was good and Utah had a stunning 17-12 victory.
This put Utah in the finals against an undefeated and highly touted Life University, the winners of the other conference. Life, a chiropractic school from Mariette, Ga., had beaten San Diego State 10-5 in the quarters, Kutztown 19-5 in the semis, and was 6-0 in the tournament. Utah’s strength was in their passing and open field running while their opponents were known for hard hitting and a strong defense.
The Utes scored first as the ball was spun out to Harris who got the try in the corner. Pati’s long and wide angled conversion was good making it 7-0. Life came back for a try of their own when they stole the ball out of a set piece and went wide, but they missed the kick for the extra points and trailed 7-5 at the half. Right at the start of the second half a Life back barged through the Utah defense and, juking two defenders, scored in the corner to make it 10-7.
Following a Ute knock-on the Running Eagles added another try off a strong run and the conversion gave them an seemingly insurmountable 17-5 lead. Palamo then entered the match as the Utes continued to battle. He and Lauti were stopped short of the end zone several times before Thretton scored a try and Lauti’s conversion cut the lead to 17-12.
There was time for one more Utah attack and they worked their way down field before the ball was knocked loose on a tackle. Life recovered it and held to clinch the victory. Utah now returns to fifteens action, hosting Utah State at McCarthy Field this Saturday at noon.
OTHER VEGAS SCORES
Weber State 7’s lost to Yale (no score), Central Washington 45-0, and Indiana 28-5 in pool play. They then dropped a close one to Regis 14-5 in Bowl play. Park City Haggis 15’s played the All Murrays and the Misfits, but no scores have been posted. The same is true for both Utah Valley University and Utah State 15’s, and the Lowland U-19 7’s side, who were also scheduled for matches in Las Vegas
MEN’S EAGLE 7’s 1-4 IN VEGAS; WOMEN PLACE SECOND
The IRB International Sevens Tournament moved to Sam Boyd Stadium at the University of Las Vegas this past weekend. The U.S. played well on Friday, but fell to Fiji 33-19 and Canada 19-12. On Saturday the Eagles completed pool play by losing a heart-breaker to Argentina 14-12. Mike Palefau (Utah Warriors) scored a try off an 80 meter run.
Relegated to bowl play the United States defeated France in the first round 21-5. On Sunday the Eagles advanced to play Australia, but a 19-14 loss ended their tournament. Maka Unufe (Utah Warriors) had a great run for an apparent try, but he stepped on the touchline.
Samoa scored the last try to edge New Zealand 26-19 for the championship.
The United States’ women’s team edged the Netherlands in the semifinals to earn their right to play for the women’s championship where they lost to Canada 14-5.