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Both the Austin Blacks and Life West won their respective quarterfinal matches to punch their tickets to the final four. Austin dispatched its Red River rival the Austin Reds 24-19 while Life West overcame a halftime deficit to beat a feisty San Diego Old Aztecs squad 31-22.
The first half of the match between the Texas rivals was back and forth. Dallas drew first blood with a penalty and took a 6-3 lead with another after Austin tied the match with one of its own. The first try of the game came from Austin’s Levi Kereti. The Blacks won a lineout inside the Dallas 22 meter line and spun the ball wide. The winger walked in untouched to give Austin its first lead.
The teams exchanged penalties with both teams regaining the lead briefly. The Blacks led for approximately 30 seconds before Dallas answered with its first try. Despite losing a man to the sin bin, Dallas won the restart after the Austin Penalty. Austin let the kick bounce and Phil Boulton scooped it up off one bounce. The Red proceeded to go in untouched near the posts as a shocked Austin side watched on.
After the break, Dallas added a penalty to extend the lead to 19-11 but Austin fought back. After spending a number of minutes deep in Dallas territory, Conor Bertrand powered over from a few meters out to cut the deficit to one point.
Austin broke through a number of times but were turned over inside the Dallas forced several turnovers at the breakdown. However, a costly penalty from 35 meters out gave Steve Jones and opportunity for a chance at goal. Jones nailed the kick to give Austin a 21-19 lead.
The Blacks frustrated the Reds for the remainder of the game. Keeping the ball on the fringes, they kept all possession away from Dallas. The Reds tried time and again to get a turnover at the breakdown but it was to no avail. The Blacks got close and Jones extended the lead to 24-19 with a drop goal. Less than a minute later the final whistle blew and Austin took home the rivalry win.
In the other quarterfinal, San Diego came out firing and took an early 6-0 lead thanks to a pair of penalties. The Old Aztecs frustrated the Gladiators and with a number of unforced errors by Life West, the Aztecs started on the front foot.
A missed tackle however, allowed Life West to break into the score sheet. After building a few phases and getting the ball out to the backs, the Gladiators broke through and one offload later Tino Mafi dotted down. The conversion was missed and the match remained 6-5.
The Old Aztecs regained their footing and added two more penalties before halftime. The SoCal team had a tremendous start to the match but not scoring any tries kept them from building a bigger lead. As it turned out, they would not manage to crack the Life West defense until the final seconds.
The Gladiators started the second half much better than the first, scoring a try in the first couple of minutes. After broken play, Life West found a gap deep in its own territory. Calvin Nell side stepped a defender a few phases later and blew by the Aztecs fullback to even the game up at 12.
The Aztecs retook the lead with a penalty but Nell notched his second of the game off a failed clearance kick. For the first time in the game, Life West led. With the conversion it was 19-15.
The speed of play from Life West proved to be too much in the last quarter of the match. After some quick ball the Gladiators earned a penalty from 8 meters out. Life quick tapped and the player was tackled short of the goal line. However, the Aztecs were not back 10 meters and the referee issued a yellow card to the SoCal team. Life capitalized moments later to increase the game to a two score match.
Life West sealed the match with a try in the waning moments. A dummy pass allowed Life West to sneak through and after an offload out wide outflanked the San Diego defense for a 31-15 lead.
There were some fireworks in the last few minutes. Although Life sealed the match minutes earlier, Life West saw a player sent off with a red card for foul play. The Aztecs managed to dot down at the death for a 31-22 final.
The semifinal will take place at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Ariz. Tomorrow at 2:30 PM WST.