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Utah claimed the qualifier berth to the CRC with a thrilling come from behind victory over Notre Dame College. Chad Gough powered his way over the line after the horn sounded to send Utah back to CRC for the first time since 2011.
NDC kicked the opening kickoff through the back of the end zone and Utah monopolized possession for the first four minutes. The Utes nearly struck first but a great recovery tackle into touch by Marcus Tupuola prevented the score.
NDC knocked on the lineout and took a penalty at the next break down. Cory Graham through the ball away cynically and was shown a yellow card. Utah capitalized on the man advantage and scored a converted try on the left flank.
Utah was unable to score any more during the man advantage but stymied NDC until well after the hooter. A careless offload cost Utah, though, as Tupuola scooped up the ball and went in for a try. The conversion was missed and Utah led 7-5 going into the break.
Three minutes into the second half, Reneil Reynolds outflanked the Utah defense and used a clever one handed offload inside to find a teammate. NDC worked the ball back and forth and looked to have found the try zone in the right corner but the referee deemed it to be a double move and awarded a penalty.
With less than a two minutes to play, the Falcons looked to have stolen the game with a try by Spencer Duncan. The big second row, who is usually known for the dirty work, found pay dirt near the posts. The conversion was missed and it turned out to be a costly kick.
Utah desperately tried to break down the Falcon defense and got to the five meter line before the ball was stripped out of the hands of Chad Gough into touch after time expired. The referee, however, awarded a penalty for a high tackle. Gough redeemed himself by taking a quick tap on the penalty and powering over for the game winning score and a 12-10 victory.
“I was the one who lost the ball and I was the one that thought the game was over,” Gough told Rugby Today. “Then they gave me the ball. I saw them just walking back so I just decided that I am kind of bigger than all of them, I am just going to go for it. I have my teammates behind me and they can support me.”
Utah was not the flashiest of teams at the CRC qualifier but it proved to be one of the most technically sound teams. Coach Mark Drown praised his side’s defensive effort and their willingness to buy into the team strategy.
“I have some very smart kids and they understand that the defensive shape is really the key. If your defense can hold and can force a turnover, beat them on the breakdown, then you are in a position to get them in a try situation,” said Drown. “We really worked hard on the defensive shape and that really was the plan.”
The last time Utah played in the CRC Gough was in high school and Drown had no affiliation with Utah. After losing its spot in the competition due to a suspension, Utah is thrilled to be back.
“I am excited. I actually watched it on TV. I watched Utah win it. I am ecstatic to go back. This is what we have been working for. This is why we came to LVI,” Gough added.
“We are excited. Utah has a long history of sevens and we take pride in it. So we are excited to be back in the tournament that we started our sevens reputation with years ago,” Drown contributed.