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Every game is a learning experience and there will be plenty of lessons after Utah Warriors lost to the Ontario Arrows, 24-20. The victory is Ontario’s first of the spring while the Warriors suffered their second straight defeat. Utah will take time to lick its wounds and plays its final preseason game against the Alberta Wolfpack on April 20.
“We saw improvement in all areas on and off the field,” Utah Warriors CEO and General Manager Kimball Kjar said. “We still got a long ways to go in a number of areas and I think its pretty easy to see what those areas are if you watch the video. There was definitely some improvement. The defensive shape was more consistent, the phases were strung together with more patience, but we are still lacking some expertise in our set piece and the ability to finish when we get close to the try line. It’s some little things we can fix and fine tune, I think we can move in the right direction.”
Despite the rain, nearly 5,000 fans showed up at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Warriors kicked off and the Arrows took advantage of a shot at goal almost immediately, but the Will Kelly penalty was wide. However, Kelly’s next opportunity two minutes later split the uprights for a 3-0 lead.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Utah’s Jared Whippy got his first chance at points, but he missed. The Warriors attacked again inside the Arrows’ territory and drew a penalty where Whippy connected to tie the game.
After an Ontario kick to touch at ten meters, the Arrow forwards took over. They mauled the ball inside the five and then successive pick and goes found pay dirt with Mike Sheppard scoring the try. Kelly’s conversion gave Ontario the 10-3 advantage.
The Arrows were on the attack again minutes later utilizing their dominant scrum. From just outside the five, Ontario whipped the ball out to the backs where Kelly passed to Mitch Richardson for the try. Kelly’s second conversion was successful and the lead held until halftime, 17-3.
The Warriors regrouped at the break and off a turnover, Paki Afu charged upfield into the Arrow’s half. Phase play ensued until Whippy weaved his way to the goal line. After a penalty restart, Afu scored at the right post. Whippy’s kick made it 17-10.
Utah’s inspired play continued with the man advantage when Fetu’u Vainiholo counterattacked off an Ontario kick to race down the sideline. The winger ducked and dodged three defenders to score in the corner. Whippy’s conversion sailed right but the Warriors cut the deficit to two points at 17-15.
Utah’s onslaught persisted in the 61st minute as the backs crashed into the Arrows defense. First, it was Paul Lasike then Whippy breaking the line only to pass out wide to Josh Whippy for the try. The conversion was good and the Warriors led 20-17.
The momentum swerved back to Ontario when the Arrows set up a lineout inside the ten following a penalty. After another infraction, the forward pack bulldozed 15 meters for ten phases when Pat Lynott scored in the 72nd minute. Sam Windsor notched the conversion to extend the lead to 24-20.
With less than a minute remaining, the Warriors had one last opportunity to win the match. Utah forced a penalty on the Ontario scrum and kicked to touch just inside the ten. The Warriors swung the ball out to the backs, but the Arrows defense came up big with a counter ruck to steal the pill. With no time on the clock, Ontario secured the ball and kicked it out to end the game.
Even though the Warriors lost, positives were seen and two players impressed. “He didn’t get a lot of the recognition, but the guy who did all the hard work and was making the tough tackles was Paul Lasike,” Kjar said. “Every time he got the ball, he was getting go forward momentum, every time he was making a tackle, it was behind the gain line. He was the yeoman of the team.”
“The guy that stood out when he got the ball in hand and really got the energy in the crowd was Fetu’u Vainiholo, the Tongan all-time leading try scorer,” Kjar continued. “He did some pretty amazing things with the ball in his hands so we are going to have to figure out ways to get him around the ball moving forward.”
Utah wraps up the preseason on April 20th against Alberta before season opener versus San Diego. “We are going to take time to rest up, get some of the bruises healed,” Kjar concluded. “We have had to scrap into the depth chart, especially in our front row. Get some guys healed, get them back on the front foot for a health and mental stance. We will make sure we are ready to go and finish off our preseason with Alberta strong.”