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Utah breaking tackles against USAFA. Utah Rugby Photo.

With the short Rugby West season wrapping up in two weeks, #7 Utah and Colorado played their last matches of the fall. Encountering it’s toughest opponent of the season, Utah defeated Air Force, 41-30, in a game that was closer than the score showed. In another tight affair, Colorado held off a late push by Wyoming to prevail, 29-24.

Air Force at #7 Utah

With the win over Air Force on Saturday, Utah completed it’s four game stint in the Rugby West with a perfect record. The Zoomies gave the Utes a spirited match starving Utah of possession for most of the game. Most of the Utes’ points came off counterattacks from turnovers, taking advantage of mistakes, and converting their kicks. With the fall 15s schedule finished for 2015, Utah will resume play in the Pacific Rugby Conference in the spring against the likes of Arizona, UCLA, and Cal.

“Air Force came ready to play,” Utah head coach Haloti Liava’a said. “They took it to us. Speaking with Coach Meridith, that’s the best they’ve played in the last three years. We defended for most of the time and it felt like we were flat as we were tired from defending. It wasn’t until they made a mistake that we took a long run and fortunately for us, we were able to score tries off their mistakes. We didn’t really get anything sustained as far as phases, so we were fortunate that we were able to score and make our kicks.”

Chad Gough and Phil Hinson started the scoring for Utah with back-to-back tries before USAFA’s McCord Thorley scored following a series of pick-and-goes. Gabe Rufllin would put in the Utes’ next try and Ben Burmester responded to cut Utah’s lead to 21-10 with a try for the USAFA.

The second half began with Burmester scoring two tries five minutes apart to close within one point of the lead at 21-20. Utah stormed back with tries by Caleb Myer and Connor Airmet and a penalty kick by Josh Webber, who was also four for six on conversions.

With 15 minutes left, the Zoomies kept battling exchanging tries with Utah down the stretch. Colin Culver dotted the ball down for Air Force and the Utes answered with a try by Nate Kingsford. The last try came right at the end by Mitch Cochell for the Zoomies. Unfortunately, it would not be enough and Utah persevered, 41-30.

“Exciting match for both sides,” Air Force head coach Denny Meridith stated. “It was an overall showcase for a wide open attack and close support. We look to be continuously improving as we are still making too many decision errors that result in lost opportunities and high tackling... [The deciding factor of the game was the] kicking. Both teams had six tries each, but Utah converted on four of them, plus one penalty kick, while USAFA was not able to put any kicks through the posts.”

For his stellar play on the day, hooker Chad Gough earned praise from Liava’a as the Man of the Match. “His throws were on in the lineout, his hooking in the scrum was good. In open play, he is a back playing hook. We converted him into it because of his speed, his endurance, and his ball skills. He did a great job running the ball, offloading, and supporting.”

Colorado at Wyoming

In the last match of the fall for both teams, Colorado and Wyoming gave their best effort in front the Cowboys home crowd in Laramie, Wyo. The match was neck-and-neck and Wyoming almost came back in the last ten minutes after Colorado was dealt a late yellow card. The Buffs regrouped and clamped down their defense in the final minutes to protect the 29-24 victory.

“I felt both teams played really well,” Colorado head coach Luke Gross stated. “I thought it was the best game I’ve seen Wyoming play. Their #12 is a tremendous player, a strong, good runner. We were under quite a lot of pressure in the first half in the scrum. For us, Christian Wiessing, Jay Brown, and Eli Mackay played really well. In the second half, our ball retention [was excellent.] We kept the ball for several phases and kept the pressure on them. Our tight five played really well in the second half.”

Led by tries by Wiessing, Kellen McDonald, and Ryan Aylesworth, Colorado had the 19-12 advantage at halftime. Cody Jerabek and Michael Lewiz each scored for the Cowboys. In the second half, Lewis’ second try and a conversion by Conner Rezzonico tied the score at 19-19 at the 46th minute. The Buffs broke to stalemate three minutes later with a second Wiessing try, then again with a score by Caleb Myer. Jerabek would score his second try with ten minutes to go, but the Cowboys were unable to put another try over, even with the man advantage.

Speaking of Colorado’s ability to close out the game with a man in the bin, Gross said, “It’s those boys. They take the field. It’s the boys’ team and they took it themselves to wrap it up. That’s what rugby is. It’s the players’ team and we just help organize it as a coach. They took charge, they refocused themselves, and said ‘we’re down a man and we got to play’.”

“Wyoming made a great improvement from last weeks game,” Wyoming head coach David Finnoff said. “They showed a lot of fire and determination, unlucky to not be able to win the game. We were tough on defense, just could not score [when we got near the tryline]... CU played smart, disciplined rugby.  #10 Jay Brown exploited Wyoming’s gaps in the middle of the pitch, setting up their #8.  Every time CU got to our tryline, they scored and we did not.”