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In the first game of its Rocky Mountain tour on Thursday night in Provo, Utah, Army West Point was able to compete with Brigham Young University for the first 40 minutes, but the Cougars showed their experience and athleticism in the second half to win 71-10. After the Black Knights kept the score at 26-10 at the break, the Cougars reassessed and brought the thunder with seven unanswered tries in the final frame.
BYU’s great speed, support, and proficiency propelled them to the victory. Inside center Calvin Whiting's 26 total points led the way for the Cougars with his two tries and eight for eleven on conversions and lock Matt Jensen and prop Alex Vorster had two tries apiece.
“Army came out well,” BYU head coach David Smyth said. “They worked hard and were definitely prepared. I didn’t think we were firing on all cylinders because they were pressuring us, especially at the breakdown. We had some new combinations, so we were getting used to playing the game at that speed and getting assimilated to our surroundings. After we got a chance to talk and work on some things at halftime, we were able to do quite a bit better.”
The competitive first half began with BYU flyhalf Zack Webber scoring the game’s first points after taking a gap 40 meters to beat three defenders to the tryzone. The Black Knights responded with some hard work by the forwards ending with scrumhalf Jake Banarhall's superb effort from the back of the ruck out muscling five men to score. The points after were wide and BYU led, 7-5.
About eight minutes later, BYU was on the counterattack when Joe Nicholls sent a grubber down field. Calvin Whiting gobbled it up and scored from 40 meters out. Alex Vorster followed with a forwards try and prop Zane Mendenhall extended the lead with a step and dummy to the wing on the way to a 20 meter finish in the tryzone. Whiting was three for four with his kicking in the half.
With two minutes to go, Army got a boost and pounded the ball deep inside Cougar territory. After successive blows to the interior of the defense, flanker Andrew Irvin bulldozed his way over the line. The conversion missed, but Army edged closer at 26-10, BYU.
The second half was not as close as the first. Although Army is a fit and athletic team, the experience and pure talent of BYU outmatched the opposition. Matt Jensen had two tries in the half, Vorster and Whiting added their seconds, and Jonny Layne, Kingston Matua, and Kevin Schofield each contributed to a 45-point half. In the end, the final score was 71-10 in favor of BYU.
Commenting on the loss, Army head coach Matt Sherman said, “It was a tale of two pretty different halves... In the first half, I was really happy with our performance. We played a majority of the first half in their end. We competed well in the set pieces and when we kept ball in hand, we were able to work down the field. Defensively, we kept them in front of us quite well.”
“In the second half, we started to give them more possession starting with the set pieces,” Sherman added. “The lineout really struggled and we got pulled out of our shape defensively in the set piece and phase play. A great team like BYU got behind us and once they were behind us, we scrambled valiantly, but it was very hard to stop them.”
Coach Smyth’s player of the game was lock Matt Jensen. “His work rate, he gets around the field, he’s good on the lineouts, and he scores tries. For a big man playing in the lock position, you don’t expect a man like that to score as many tries as Jensen has been scoring. I think he has scored a try in the last three games.”
BYU has four games left until the Varsity Cup starts and Coach Smyth's objective is to get his squad healthy again. “We were missing about six or seven guys last night. Nothing too serious, but it just takes two or three weeks to come back from. The next two games we play against Weber State and UVU, we’ll go into our reserve squad for those and try to get our main guys healthy for San Diego State and Utah. Leading into the Varsity Cup, we want to put our best guys on the field to win.”
For Army, this two game stretch against BYU and Utah on Saturday is about pushing its standard of play by playing outside its comfort zone. “Last night was a great example as we took some confidence out of that game and some of the things we were doing in the first 40 we felt like we could play competitively with BYU,” Sherman said. “Obviously, the score line shows you there’s a lot of improvement to get there, but we would have never of learned some of these lessons without that sort of game.”