Utah Warriors Erase 17-Point Deficit In Dramatic Comeback Win
HERRIMAN, Utah – For the second straight week, the Utah Warriors won in dramatic fashion, erasing a 17-point deficit to defeat the San Diego Legion 45-41 and giving the Warriors their first victory over the Legion in franchise history.
The Legion jumped out to an early 7-0 lead following a try by Faka’osi Pifeleti in the sixth minute of play.
With the Warriors threatening at the try line, the Legion defense held strong to keep Utah out of the try zone and forced a turnover in the 12th-minute, leading to a San Diego scrum.
Utah responded just moments later, stealing the Legion lineout and marching down the field before a San Diego penalty led to a penalty goal by Calvin Whiting, narrowing the Utah deficit to 7-3 after 18-minutes of play.
In the 27th minute the Legion attack was able to put another ball down in the try zone, this time by Dean Muir, to give San Diego a 14-3 lead after a successful conversion by Joe Pietersen.
Despite a strong San Diego defense, the Warriors would not be kept out of the try zone as Thomas Tu’avao took the ball 22 metres and into the try zone, bringing the score to 14-10 with San Diego leading at the half.
“We needed to clean up a few things with our attack after the opening period of play,” said Warriors head coach Shawn Pittman. “We spoke at half about having more tempo and urgency which we felt would give us a lot more opportunities in the second half.”
Despite the Warriors’ halftime adjustments, San Diego opened the second half scoring when Pietersen converted on a successful drop goal to give the Legion three points and the seven point lead.
The Warriors quickly answered in the ensuing minutes, however, as eightman Jurie Van Vuuren took the ball into the try zone for an automatic seven points, tying the game at 17.
The tied game only lasted four minutes, however, as San Diego’s Thomas Morani gave the lead back to the Legion, 24-17.
Despite being a man down after Carlo De Nysschen was given a yellow card, the Legion added to their lead with a try by Cameron Clark in the 51st minute of play.
The scoring continued at a rapid pace, this time it was Utah’s Olive Kilifi punching it home for a second consecutive week, closing the Warriors deficit to just 5 points, 29-24, but a swift response by San Diego pushed their lead to 10-points, 34-24, just four minutes later.
In total, there were five tries and 34 total points scored between the two teams before the second-half water break.
“We spoke about getting quick ball movement before the game and San Diego did a really good job the first 40-minutes of slowing everything down,” said Warriors Assistant Shaun Davies. “After the half, we were able to create the quick-ball and create a lot more opportunities for ourselves offensively. Unfortunately, they were also able to take advantage in that 20-minute period.”
The scoring didn’t stop after the second-half water break as the Legion continued to find the try zone. This time it was Bjorn Basson who touched it down for the Legion, his seventh of the season, giving San Diego a 41-24 addvantage.
The Warriors refused to fold despite an intimidating deficit as fullback Mikey Te’o was able to dot it down for an automatic seven points, handing the momentum to Utah.
The Warriors were able to capitalize on the momentum as just minutes later Chad Gough powered his way into the try zone, pulling the Warriors within three-points with eight minutes of action remaining.
With the final seconds ticking off and in dramatic fashion, Warriors wing James Vaifale took a pass from Te’o into the try zone, giving the Utah Warriors the 45-41 victory.
“I think the amazing thing is that, with the individuals we have on this team, we back ourselves and back each other to get those points no matter what,” said Pittman. “You can see it in our win against Seattle last week and the Old Glory match a few weeks ago. We have a phenomenal bench, if not the best bench unit in Major League Rugby. And we have had to use them a lot. More than what our goal is, so we’ll have to tighten some things up but this was a really gritty performance by our guys.”