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New Orleans screamed out to an early lead on Fresno in the DII Men’s Club National Semifinal Saturday at Infinity Park, and held on in the second half to win 38-17.
“We just moved the ball pretty quick and recycled pretty well,” said NOLA captain Joel Mclain. “We came out, got here Friday, had a good training session, all the boys were pretty focused, and we just knew what we needed to do to get to the next game.”
NOLA’s first score came in the game’s first minute when right wing Alex Philpott touched down after Fresno failed to secure the opening kick.
Almost exactly a minute later, New Orleans scored again, at this point averaging over a try a minute. No. 8 Jarrett Falcon scored this time.
NOLA was the bigger team, with a tight five that dwarfed Fresno, which has typically favored a 10-man game. NOLA’s big pack was able to disrupt Fresno at the break down and gash the gainline, creating gaping holes for their backs.
That’s exactly what led to New Orleans notching the next two scores, Mauricio Urrutia penalties, resulting from a desperate Fresno at the breakdown. Between penalties, Fresno had a shot at goal, but Adam Wells’ shot at posts sailed wide left.
Fresno inside center Pete Hingano had a huge line break between those kicks as well, but he didn’t have support, and it was NOLA’s counter attack that drew a penalty.
New Orleans’ defense, both in the pack and the backs, had Fresno under tremendous pressure all day, and on NOLA’s next scoring occasion, that pressure forced a panicked kick from Malei Pounono that landed directly in the hands of an uncovered and charging Urrutia on the wing, who raced it uncontested, and converted, to put NOLA up 27-0.
In the tail end of the first half, Fresno finally got its game plan in motion, using slow ball for upwards 10 phases to pound over a try in the 39th minute. Wing John Richards touched it down, but the score was set up by another Hingano break.
New Orleans scored just 12 points in the second half, but used its boot to conserve energy and control territory.
“I think we won the kicking game today, and that’s always important,” said NOLA coach Jerry Malina. “I told the guys this turf field is hot out there, and a good tactical kicking game can save your legs a little bit, compared to taking 10 phases to get 50 yards, and we won the kicking battle and that helped us today.”
Though Fresno put up 13 points after intermission, winning the second half, NOLA’s first half blitz and methodical play in the latter stanza was more than enough for the win, setting up a rematch of the South final in the stadium Sunday for the DII National Title. Krewe won the first encounter 38-17.