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Seattle improved to 2-1 with a gritty 31-29 win at NOLA Gold Saturday. The first half was almost all in the favor of the home team, as the Gold pumped in three tries to Seattle’s one, taking a 15-10 into halftime.

However, NOLA left nine points on tee, not converting a single conversion and missing a point-blank penalty. Seattle would string together 21 consecutive points in the middle third of the game to take the lead and never relinquish it.

The home-opening loss drops NOLA to 1-2. The Gold did pick up two bonus points in the loss, though, bumping them to seven total, forcing a three-way tie at the bottom of the table with Austin and Houston. Austin has played one more game than both Houston and NOLA. The win will see Seattle in second or third after the weekend, pending Sunday’s result between Glendale and San Diego.

New Orleans should have drawn first blood with a gimme penalty kick by Taylor Howden a couple of minutes in. Scrumhalf Holden Yungert got the attack going with a quick-tap off a penalty. Then Nikola Bursic broke through the line. Under pressure, the Seawolves infringed, giving Howden the shot, which he missed.

NOLA camped out in the attacking end for much of the opening 20 minutes. A long series of pick-and-goes weren’t converted to points. Seattle bailed the Gold out near the 10-minute-mark with a penalty, resulting in a five-meter scrum.

The Gold still couldn’t convert, knocking on. In the ensuing scrum, Seattle was called very early for pulling the scrum down. NOLA went quick, and flyhalf Peceli Rinakama found a crease for the opening try of the game. Howden missed the conversion – 5-0.

Flyhalf Pete Smith made the first successful kick at posts of the game in the 26th minute, punishing a Gold penalty in the middle third of the field. The kick drew the Seahawks to within two at 5-3, despite them having been outplayed most of the first 20 minutes.

New Orleans widened the gap with a set-piece try by Joeli Tikoisuva. The Gold won their own put-in on the right side of the field not far from the attacking 22, and well-executed set play saw the ball land in Tikoisuva’s hands on the wing, and the former Youth Olympian blew past fullback Will Holder for the try. NOLA went 0-3 from the tee on the conversion – 10-3.

The Gold pushed the lead even further with an impressively long lineout maul within minutes. The Gold drove double-digit meters before Hubert Buydens broke free and flopped over the line. Fullback Michael Baska took over the kicking duties, but he too missed the conversion.

Seattle responded with its best possession. A couple of big carries led to a line break from Shalom Suniula, who violently stepped through the defensive line. He ran out of support and space, though, ultimately being tackled into touch deep in the attacking end.

Seattle kept the continuity through the dispossession, scoring through Holder. The several-phase movement involved most of the team. Center William Rasileka managed to squeeze off a touch pass under pressure, feeding Mat Turner. He ran over Baska, then Olive Kilifi bashed ahead.

The score happened when scrumhalf and coach Phil Mack attacked off a ruck, passing back inside to Suniula on the switch. He offloaded over his head to Holder, who dotted down. The conversion was hit by Smith, the former gridiron placekicker at D2 Central Missouri, making it 15-10, which is how the half would end.

Seattle maintained the front foot through intermission, scoring consecutive tries to start the second half. The first came off a short-range lineout. Smith could have notched another three points from the tee, but the Seawolves opted to kick to the corner. The initial maul didn’t gain much ground, but Rasileka took a switch off Suniula and blew through a poor arm tackle attempt by Rinakama for the score.

After stubbing its own toe by knocking on after winning an attacking point-blank lineout, Seattle scored a beautiful long-range try thanks to a bevy of offloads. After NOLA threw the ball out of bounds, Rasileka slapped away a tackle attempt from Bobby Johns before dishing to Turner, who made a backhand flick to Tiberio for the try. Smith converted, making it 24-15.

NOLA caught a break when Tikoisuva was able to intercept a bobbled pass. Openside flanker Matt Hughston chucked the ball into contact the next phase, and then Howden, now at flyhalf, stepped through the Seattle defense and accelerated to finish off the try. NOLA’s first kick of the day was good, cutting the deficit to two.

Seattle regained momentum with a try from Turner. Suniula made it possible with a long break off the base of a ruck, putting Seattle in the attacking end. Turner converted the pressure into points by taking a narrow line very hard right off Mack, slipping through for the try. Smith nailed the conversion, putting Seattle up two scores at 31-22.

The Gold stayed in the race with a Hughston try in the 73rd minute. Like NOLA’s third try, its fifth was th result of a successful driving maul off a point-blank lineout. Hughston split off and slammed over to secure the points. Baska hit his second conversion in a row, pulling the Gold back to within two at 31-29 with about six minutes to play.

The Gold’s defense double down with a stingy stand to earn the ball back right at 76 minutes. The home team took possession with a scrum in its own end and about 75 meters from pay dirt. Rain picked up at the same time, adding to the drama.

NOLA got in the right end of the field by winning a kicking exchange, but twice coughed it up in the tackle. The first time Bursic lost it forward, and then Yungert isolated and had the ball ripped out of his hands, too, granting Seattle the ball in the last minute.

Seattle 31
Tries: Holder, Rasileka, Tiberio, Turner
Cons: Smith (4)
Pens: Smith

NOLA 29
Tries: Rinakama, Tikoisuva, Buydens, Howden, Yungert
Cons: Baska (2)