BY HUGH BROWN
The University of Utah traveled to Colorado Springs this past Saturday to take on Air Force Academy in the first round of the Varsity Cup and the Utes came away with a 71-24 victory.
“We played at a pace the Academy had a tough time matching,” Utes coach Jon Law said. “In many cases we had already recycled the ball before they had a chance to set up their defense. Importantly, we had good support options off both shoulders in open space and were able to finish most of our line breaks. Our core skills looked clean and clinical.”
The match was played on a windy day that affected the kicking games for both sides. It looked like it trouble when the Zoomies scored the first try of the game nine minutes into play after their wing picked up a loose ball and slipped through some poor tackling, but just six minutes later Taylor Thomas broke a few tackles and scored Utah’s first try. Tonata Lauti’s conversion put the Utes up 7-5. Utah took the restart kick down to the Air Force 5 meter line where, following a Zoomie penalty, Spencer Vickery did a quick tap and bulled into the end zone for a converted try and a 14-5 lead.
Utah was now on an offensive roll as Lauti juked his through the AFA tacklers and scored again to make it 19-5. Twenty-seven minutes into the match a great chip kick forced the Zoomies to down the ball in their own end zone resulting in a 5-meter scrum. Utah won it and spun the ball out to Scott Strong who scored a converted try to make it 26-5. Six minutes later the Utes won another scrum and spun the ball out to Taylor who broke three tackles for his second try and, with Lauti’s kick, a 33-5 lead.
Just three minutes after that Strong’s power run for his second try broke even more tackles and upped the lead to 40-5. The half ended with Gabe Ruflin stealing an Air Force lineout and the ball was eventually spun to Casey Raymond at the wing who scored in the corner. It was 45-5 Utah mid-way through the match and the Utes began substituting freely.
Utah’s opened the scoring in the second half when Jacob Morrison started the attack following a won scrum from his eighth man position and, after seven phases of play, regained the ball and dove over the goal line. Up 50-5 the Ute forwards again drove deep into Air Force territory where Lauti passed to Taylor who hit a gap and scored a try which Lauti converted for a 57-5 lead. Utah took the restart and pressed AFA back where Nate Kingsford made a superb pass to Taylor who went in for his fourth try of the match and the conversion made it 64-5. Air Force never gave up however, and the Zoomies outscored Utah’s reserves 19-7 the rest of the way, with the Utes’ try coming when Utah won a 10-meter scrum near the AFA end zone and after six phases of ball movement, Greg Klc powered over the goal line.
Tonata Lauti had an excellent kicking game despite a difficult cross wind. Ruflin, Vickery, Strong, and Taylor all played exceptional matches.
Utah now advances to the Varsity Cup quarterfinals this Saturday when they travel to Los Angeles to take on undefeated and 8th ranked Central Washington. The Wildcats are 8-0 this spring and recently defeated previously unbeaten Oregon 79-0 to win the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference. Central Washington is averaging 79.0 points a match this spring while giving up an average of 4.5.
In other Varsity Cup matches, Dartmouth looked good as they beat Clemson 59-24. The Big Green advances to play BYU at Annapolis, Md. Also moving on to Annapolis will be Texas who downed Notre Dame 55-33 in South Bend, Ind. The Longhorns will take on Navy. UCLA crushed Oklahoma 77-12 in Westwood, Calif., and will next play the Cal in Los Angeles.