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Defense turned into offense for the Austin Elite on Friday night as the hometown boys came ready to play. Playing in Round Rock, Texas, Austin used its bye week to shore up the defense and the Elite executed the gameplan for a 31-5 victory over the San Diego Legion.
“We worked extra hard on our defense to stay in line and in our defensive patterns,” Austin coach Pedrie Wannenburg said. “In the last game, we lost badly and only seven minutes cost us the game versus Utah. We had to stay composed, work, and believe in our structure.”
“We took advantage of our opportunities on turnover ball,” Elite captain Andrew Suniula stated as the key to the win. “That’s the best ball to attack from and we did a pretty good job converting their mistakes into points. [San Diego] didn’t really get into the game as they couldn’t play two or three phases consistently. That’s a credit to our guys on the first phases of defense.”
Preparation for this match began after the devastating loss to Utah, continued through the bye week, and culminated in an immense team effort on Friday. Austin started in the barrage eight minutes in with a Timothee Guillimin penalty and followed it up with tries from Saiosi Finau and Hanco Germishuys only minutes apart to lead 17-0 at the half.
After killing off a yellow to begin the second half, Zinzan Elan-Puttick scored off an extraordinary 50-meter counterattack to stretch the tally to 24-0. San Diego was able to prevent the goose egg with a try from Drew Gaffney, but the Legion couldn’t further capitalize on the subsequent yellow card on the play. Austin didn’t allow the man advantage affect them as Marcus Walsh dummied in the team’s bonus point try. Like it had all game, the defense stood tall in the last ten minutes to preserve the 31-5 win.
“We know we have the talent and we can do it, but we have to trust and believe in ourselves,” Wannenburg commented. “That paid off in the last 20 minutes. We almost lost it with a try and a couple of gaps of concentration, but luckily the boys stayed cool in the heads and just ground through.”
“Our forward pack stood up pretty well and we matched their physicality up front,” Suniula added. “We knew what danger they brought around the ruck. That’s where we have been pretty inconsistent the whole season. We put a lot of emphasis on our ruck defense [during the bye week] and built our defense from inside out. They have one of the most dangerous lines in the league and we played them very well.”
Both Wannenburg and Suniula were impressed with the play of Elan-Puttick commanding the defense. “Zinzan played pretty well in the backs for our defensive effort,” Suniula said. “The try he scored was one of the best tries of the year, but defensively at fullback, he shut down any threats they snuck through our line.”
Next up for Austin is a rematch against the Utah Warriors at home. The Elite has a score to settle and will have to play harder and smarter to get back to 0.500 and stay in the playoff hunt.
“We have to match [Utah’s] physicality and we have to mix it up with smarts as well,” Suniula ended. “I thought we played a lot smarter in the forwards tonight. We have to mix our game up against a physical team like Utah and remain composed on defense.”