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To decide state bragging rights and the home of the David Blank Trophy, rivals Arizona and Arizona State met in Tempe, where the clubs battled to a 34-15 Sun Devil victory. The win marks ASU's first conference victory of the season.
The game was the first year of the David Blank Trophy, which honors a special individual that played prop for ASU and later Tempe Rugby Club. Dave was instrumental in the development of youth rugby in Arizona and touched many lives around the state. Blank passed away in November, and the trophy is a memoriam of the man he was and what he did for Arizona rugby.
The match was close in the first half, but the Sun Devils pulled away in the second for the win. “The first half was a little slow,” said Arizona State head coach Gary Lane. “We were ahead, 6-3, at the half, and it was a good defensive battle. In the second half, our back row started to dominate loose play and create turnovers. We opened the game up and got it to the hands of our very strong backline and found holes in their defense in their backs.”
In the first half, the clubs traded penalty kicks with Arizona State flanker Keenan Mayfield connecting on his attempt followed by Arizona’s flyhalf Kyle Rogers evening the score 13 minutes later. The tie remained at 3-3 as both team’s defense held the deadlock. At the 33rd minute, Mayfield struck again with a PK to give the Sun Devils a 6-3 halftime lead.
The Wildcats took their only lead of the day early in the second half when flanker Matt Tomasetti broke a hard run off the flyhalf busting through two tackles for the try. Rogers kicked the conversion for the 10-6 advantage. Mayfield tacked on another PK soon after, which was followed by a try by wing Alex Sandstrom to reclaim the lead, 17-10, for the Sun Devils.
Arizona threatened to tie it up again when the Wildcats started a maul and Arizona State backed off its defense. Lock Vinny Yackanin identified this and ran through the maul to touch the ball down in the corner. The kick missed, but Arizona trailed by two, 17-15.
There would be no opportunity for the Wildcats to recover as Arizona State scored the last three tries of the match. Flanker Nick Howard, Sandstrom, and wing Trevor Cuicchi each had tries and expanded the lead to 34-15 and the win.
“We are a young team, starting a lot of young guys. ASU had a lot of momentum and intangibles with the David Blank Trophy. The game was dedicated to Dave, and I knew Dave as well. It was a very special day for both teams. It was tight at half at 6-3. Very even at the half. Second half, it really opened up,” said Wildcats head coach Sean Duffy.
“ASU was able to do some things in their backline. Sandstrom, at fullback, is a really nice player. Mayfield had a really nice foot on him. They were able to do some good things and take advantage of our mistakes. We made too many mistakes, so all credit to ASU. A hard fought battle and the rivalry continues. They will have the cup this year and we hope to come and get it next year."
Of his back row play, Lane said, “Our back row did tireless work. Keenan Mayfield and Nick Howard did exceptional work and were on U of A’s flyhalf and center all day. They didn’t have much time to do anything. Eventually, it led to turnovers and to some of the tries.”
“Arizona is a good rugby team. They are big, very big. Always fight until the end. They are a tough outfit and not to be taken lightly. They came ready to play.”