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Team USA came back from an ominous start to beat New Zealand 24-19 and advance to a fifth-consecutive gold-medal match. The Eagles overcame a 14-point deficit with a 19-point run on either side of halftime and a walk-off try by Carlin Isles at the death.
New Zealand scored 20 seconds into the match when Sione Molia skinned Matai Leuta, starting in place of the injured Danny Barrett, on the edge. The kick was converted, 7-0.
The Eagles won the next restart and strung together some phases to get into the attacking end, but a knock-on on a short lineout throw gave the ball back to New Zealand. They marched it down the field, bouncing sideline to sideline, retreating the American defense until Kurt Baker had to do nothing but jog in untouched.
Captain Madison Hughes helped capture momentum for the Eagles with a spin move that penetrated the defensive line. Folau Niua safely grounded the pill at the end of the movement, getting the Eagles on the board.
Martin Iosefo snatched the next kickoff cleanly out of the air, putting the USA right back on the front foot in the right end of the field. Folau Niua made a half break to get to within three meters of pay dirt, and Isles picked and sneaked in through contact before the All Blacks could react. Hughes nailed both conversions, putting the Eagles up 14-12 going into halftime.
The Eagles secured the opening kickoff of the second half. They had some dodgy handling in their own end to start, but Leuta fixed the outside defenders to feed Isles in time. A Kiwi got his fingertips on the speedster, but couldn’t reel him in, and he rounded the posts for a converted score, putting the USA up 19-12.
New Zealand staved the American run with a try off a clever lineout play. Tim MIkkelson and the thrower played keep away in the narrow channel, turning the Eagles around en route to an easy score. The conversion knotted the game at 19-19 with 90 seconds to play.
The Eagles put together a punishing drive, frustrating the All Blacks into a staggering five breakdown penalties on the game’s final possession. Finally, the referee pulled a yellow card, giving the Eagles a five-meter penalty play. Ben Pinkelman made a half break a few blades of grass short of the try line, and Isles dotted down his second pick-and-go try of the tournament for the walk-off.