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Besides the action packed weekend of sevens, Las Vegas played host to a non-conference game between Arizona and Air Force. In what could be a precursor to a DIA playoff matchup, the Wildcats edged the Zoomies 30-28 in the waning moments.
“This was a playoff preview in my opinion. Air Force has already locked it up and we have a chance to be the conference rep and this was a playoff atmosphere. That was exactly what I wanted,” said Arizona coach Sean Duffy.
The first ten minutes saw a bevy of scoring. Arizona opened the scoring with a penalty but Air Force scored a try to take a 7-3. In minute nine, the Wildcats retook the lead with a converted try. The scoring calmed down for some time until a 30-meter try extended the lead for Arizona to 15-7.
The Zoomies scored a try right before halftime to cut the lead to 15-14 and started to take over the game. After an Arizona penalty extended the lead to 18-14, Air Force scored two tries in five-minute span to take a 28-18 lead with 10 minutes to go.
“We had a lot of good momentum but it was often stopped by penalties. Arizona scored all of its tries except for the last one a couple of phases after a penalty. Being able to maintain your mental approach to the game to stay strong is important. I think this was a great learning experience for our guys,” said Air Force coach Denny Merideth
Arizona stayed composed, working its way down field for a score. Sean Coleman scored a try in the corner to cut the lead to 28-23 with very little time remaining. Arizona won the restart but turned the ball over shortly after. The Wildcats tried desperately to turn the ball over but it looked as though Air Force would run out the clock.
A heads up play from Ben Joseph, however, saved the day for the Wildcats. The winger intercepted a pass and took the ball 50 meters for a score. Joseph smartly centered the ball, despite a heavy Air Force chase, setting up an easy conversion from Luke Thayer for the win.
“At that point it was a do or die situation and if he doesn’t pick the ball off the game is over. He had the presence of mind to center the ball. He made a great play and we came away with a win,” Duffy said of Joseph.
Overall, it was a quality win for Arizona. It was a gritty response to trailing late. Duffy indicated that in years past his team probably would not have come away with a victory.
“That is a game that my assistant coach said to, we lose that game last year. We have had good teams here but this team is starting to grow up. They showed resilience we may not have always had in the past,” Duffy added.