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The last time Tempe made it to the DII National title game came 12 years ago when it lost to Riverside. Over the last dozen years Tempe has been a consistent contender but has kept falling short. After beating Glendale and Little Rock in back to back days, Tempe has a chance to make club history.
Brandon Thompson, the only remaining player from the side that lost 12 years ago is salivating at the opportunity before them.
“It feels amazing to finally put it all together again. We went when I was 22 years old and after lots of years of heartbreak and last second losses we are finally back in the title match,” Thompson told Rugbymag.
In route to the finals, Tempe exploded for a combined 96 points. In the quarterfinal game Tempe defeated Glendale 35-22 and followed it up with a 61-41 victory over Little Rock.
The Old Devils trailed at halftime to Glendale but creative offense and outstanding defense propelled them to victory. Captain Danny Bell, the hooker, looped a winger to score a try down the sideline that ultimately put Tempe back in front.
One of the Teafu brothers, Alex played an outstanding game at flyhalf. His defense helped keep a disciplined and well-organized Glendale side at bay in the second half.
“Alex was defensively sound all day and was huge for us,” said Thompson.
The second day of action saw two potent offenses play head to head in a high scoring affair. James Vaaifale and Fione Letoi scored three and two tries respectively leading to a 61 point score line.
“Little Rock has a similar pattern to us. Both teams spun it wide and really were creative on offense. It was quite and impressive show offensively.”
Tempe has been putting up points in droves this season and it is due in large part to their coaching. Head Coach Fa’aso Junior has instilled a very strict style of play. Assistant coaches Nehumi Tui Eklamaka and Salty Thompson have helped run and drill the boys to the point the game is second nature.
“We have a very set pattern,” Thompson told rugbymag. “We have learned it, been drilled in it, and we believe in it.”
At 34 Thompson is the oldest player on the side and has watched many of his teammates rise from the youth ranks. Thompson is well aware that national title opportunities are few and far between but his teammates may not have the same viewpoint. Nevertheless, it is this attitude that leads Thompson to believe why the team has been so successful.
“Our guys let it all hang out. It is the nice thing about being young. The boys are not nervous. That mentality has kept our team very loose. Sometimes playoff rugby can be very nerve-racking and lead to mistakes.”
Tempe will have one more mountain to climb to be the 2014 national champions. Their opponent, Rocky Gorge has an incredible resume and a long history of success.
“To continuously be at this level they know how to win and are committed to winning. They have the resources both monetarily and physically to be competitive at the highest stage year in and year out. They are a well drilled team that is organized on and off the field.”
Tempe needs one more win to cap off an impressive undefeated season. They will take Rocky Gorge on May 31 at home of the Wisconsin Rugby Club.