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The Highland HS U19 team got some measure of revenge Saturday for their 2010 national final loss to United, defeating their in-state rivals 34-15 in a Utahy league match.
The game was played as the curtain-raiser to the Utah v. Arizona game at the University of Utah's new rugby stadium.
United brought a physically imposing squad to the fray, boasting size in both the forwards and the backs, and knew how to use that size in a physical contest.
Flanker Saepele Tautu, who is an Under-19 but plays football for BYU, was outstanding on defense, while flyhalf Russ Parai did a good job of directing the United backs and displayed good tactical kicking skills.
United took the lead five minutes into the match when Highland was penalized for diving onto the ball in the ruck. United took a quick tap and spun it wide immediately. Parai took a return pass in support, sidestepped two defenders, and scored to make it United 5 Highland 0.
Ten minutes later Highland tied the game. Flyhalf Kobi Harris lofted a crossfield kick that was gathered by Highland wing Ihaka Watene, who passed back inside to fullback Jayce Hansen for the try. Game tied 5-5.
United took the lead back with a penalty kick from Parai after Highland was whistled for offside. But at 25 minutes Highland took the lead to stay. A long period of several phases ended with No. 8 Douglas Ferris bursting through three tacklers and making the line. Highland 12 United 8.
Two minutes later Highland twisted the knife a little more. Lock Alai Motuapuaka received the restart and charged into the oncoming United forwards. He set the ruck and Highland ran four phases downfield, bunching the United defense and creating holes.
Spotting an overlap the Highland backs kept up the pace and finally passed to wing Richard Vakapuna, who took it the remaining 40 meters for the try. Highland 19 United 8.
In the second half, Highland extended their lead right after the break. Lock forward Kap Pauni's big run set up a series of phases downfield that ended with center Vita Bloomfield taking an inside pass and breaking two tackles to score.
Bloomfield, whose father Fua is now playing for the Utah Warriors, is, like his father, a standout running back in football and is set to take a football scholarship to the University of Utah.
Highland led 24-8.
United weren't done and worked their forwards using a series of pick-and-gos. In a classic goal line stand Highland tried to hold off a series of crashes from Highland. But they did it illegally. After repeated penalties for killing the ball by Highland, referee Mark Ormsby awarded a penalty try to Highland. Parai hit the conversion to make it 24-15 with about 18 minutes to go.
But any thoughts of a United comeback were killed in the next few minutes.
From a Highland scrum just inside Highland's half, scrumhalf Kepu Lauti linked with Harris, who saw the United defense coming up strong and popped a kick into space behind them. The ball rolled into touch setting up a United lineout inside their own 22, but Highland lock Alai Motuapuaka stole the throw=in and Highland quickly mauled the ball forward.
Lauti fed Harris who stepped past Parai and attracted enough attention from the United forwards to leave space for Bloomfield. Harris popped a pass to his center. Bloomfield runs on, gets double-teams by the United centers and he passes to center Antonio Lavemai, who executed a well-taken 2-on-1, committing the last defender and passing to wing Ihaka Watene for the try in the corner. Highland 29 United 15.
One more try from Highland as time wound down. A penalty for offside by United allowed prop Seni Fauonuku to set the platform from a set play and the ball was sent wide to Lavemai for the try.
United had chances to score but didn't take them as well as Highland, and it was Highland's defense that helped win the game, but not backing down
Meanwhile, United may not be a finished product, as Parai is a recent addition from New Zealand and basically just started playing with the team. How United's team comes together in the coming weeks could well decide more than just who's the best in Utah.