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This was a no-brainer. It had everything – the game itself was significant, it had a picturesque setting, the underdog won, the hometown kid was the most valuable player, an unsung hero came out of nowhere to make a game-changing play, there were comebacks by both teams, and it was a photo finish.
The significance of the game can’t be understated. Canada had owned the United States coming into the 2014 Pacific Nations Cup clash, winning 16 of the last 20 meetings and seven in a row dating back to 2009. A loss would have tied the Eagles’ longest losing streak to any opponent – Ireland and Argentina have beaten the USA eight times in a row. Head coach Mike Tolkin was winless against the Canadians, and only five current Eagles had ever beaten the Maple Leafs up until June 21.
The match was played in front of a packed Bonney Field, which had just opened days before. The announced attendance of 7,804 left just a couple of hundred seats empty in the 8,000-seat stadium. It was the first test in some time for Northern California, considered by many the hotbed of American rugby, and numerous NorCal natives showed up big.
But none had a better day than Blaine Scully, a Sacramentan. The 26-year-old went to high school at Sacramento Jesuit and played college rugby a couple of hours down the road in Berkeley. He scored twice against Canada, including the try right on 60 minutes that sparked the USA’s 17-point game-winning run. It was Scully's second huge game in a row, as he scored a hat-trick against Japan a week prior, putting an exclamation point on his breakthrough year as an Eagle.
The unsung hero? Tom Coolican made his international debut in 2014, and he had just a handful of appearances under his belt before coming on as a reserve against Canada. But he made arguably the play of the game. Down, 35-31, with just over 10 minutes to play, the short, round hooker charged down a Canadian kick, recovered the loose ball well inside the attacking 22 and spun it wide, giving the Eagles the possession from which they’d score the game winner.
First the Eagles led, 6-0, then Canada went up, 7-6. The USA ripped off back-to-back tries and held an 18-7 lead with five minutes to go in the first half. Canada stole the lead back and seemed to sap all momentum from the home team with a 28-point, eight-minute run on either side of halftime to go up 35-18. Then Scully scored, Coolican’s play set up a Wyles try, and Brett Thompson touched down the game winner.
The drama wasn’t over at that point, though. Canada charged to within the USA’s five-meter in extra time, and it took Scully ripping the ball from a Canadian ball carrier to secure the win.
There was no more exciting game in 2014 than the USA’s 38-35 win over Canada at Bonney Field in Sacramento, Calif. June, 21.