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Maka Unufe with ball. Martin Seras Lima photo

The United States overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to avoid an upset in the Bowl Quarterfinals Friday in Dubai, beating Japan 14-12. Zack Test was suited up, but on the bench with a heavily taped ankle, and the Eagles lacked structure without their most senior play maker.

The first several minutes of the game saw neither team hold onto the ball long enough to do anything with it. Five minutes gone, Japan got on top first, scoring after Carlin Isles knocked on a loose ball. Japan let the ball hit the deck, Isles was gone if he scooped it up cleanly, but he couldn’t gather it. Japan went left off the consequential scrum and scored just outside Andrew Durutalo.

The Eagles were incredibly sloppy in the first half, failing to cherish possession. Even captain Madison Hughes uncharacteristically threw the ball away. There was little purpose in the American attack, and Japan took a two-try lead right on halftime after Danny Barrett was sin binned for an intentional knock-on in a breakdown. One of Japan’s tries converted, the USA trailed 12-0.

The Eagles, down two tries with a running clock, lackadaisically took two penalty plays. The first resulted in a forward pass, and the second bore little fruit. Finally, Durutalo took a quick tap, and Maka Unufe found his way around the Japanese defense.

After a Japanese knock on the next restart, the visibly agitated Eagles bullied their way in for a second try. Folau Niua lowered his shoulder crossing the line, and tried to take out some frustration on the Japanese tackler. He dotted down close to the posts, and Hughes split the uprights to give the USA the 14-12 lead. Japan fielded the next kickoff and moved the ball down the field, but a bobbled pass allowed the Eagles to win their own put in and clear the ball to touch.

The performance was arguably the United States’ worst under first-year head coach Mike Friday, as the flurry of unforced errors in the first half were nearly too much to overcome. Nonetheless, the Eagles advance to the Bowl Semifinals against France.