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Utah's Tonata Lauti. Ian Muir photo

Utah defeated Cal Poly 31-26 Saturday to advance to the D1A quarterfinals. The Utes overcame a halftime deficit to earn a date with St. Mary’s in the next round.

Utah opened the scoring two minutes into the game, but the rest of the first half was all Cal Poly. Utah struggled in the set piece and spent nearly 30 minutes of the first half defending in its own territory. Poly scored two tries to take a 12-5 lead going into halftime.

“Our set piece just fell apart,” said Utah assistant coach Jon Law. “I think that was the worst half of rugby we have played this year. All credit to Cal Poly. They sure came with determination and a committed pattern. They played great.”

The Utes righted the ship in the second half, scoring almost immediately off of the kickoff. Utah created a turnover off the kickoff and after several phases scored to tie the game.

“We were much better in the set piece, which put us on the front with ball in hand. Once we had ball in hand, we got good opportunities to score,” said Law. “Once we were able to hold on to the ball a little bit and maintain some continuity, the pressure finally built and we did a very good job of exploiting space.”

Utah added another score to take the lead, 19-12, but Poly fought back to even the score. Utah, however, scored the next two tries, and Cal Poly was only able to muster one late score and ultimately fell 31-26.

“In the second half, the boys took it upon themselves to play a better brand of rugby,” Law concluded. A pair of flankers stood out for Utah. Gabe Ruflin and John Kacinski shored up the set piece in the second half. Law also praised the play of inside center, Taylor Thomas.

Utah will travel to Moraga, Calif., to take on St. Mary’s next weekend. The Utes defeated St. Mary’s earlier this spring, but the match was the night before St. Mary’s played BYU, so the Gaels were far from full strength. It should be a much more focused and complete St. Mary’s side that Utah will face next weekend.

“We have a tremendous amount of respect for St. Mary’s,” said Law. “They have got very good rugby players that are coached very well and are committed to what they are trying to do. We know that the task at hand is a difficult one.”