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Herriman Downs Olympus in Utah

    

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Herriman Downs Olympus in Utah

Gabe Mahuinga on the run. Shelli Simmons photo.

Herriman met in-state foe Olympus on Friday night for a key battle that would determine first place in Utah's Single-School Central Conference. 

Both teams had been on a roll, and were eager to face their first real test in conference play. The visiting Mustangs came in with an average score of 64-12 in their previous month of play, while the host Titans were coming off of a 132-0 shellacking of first-year Copper Hills. Olympus is a well-run, aggressive and physical side led by Head Coach Brad Anderson, and also boasts a pair of former University of Utah Rugby heavy hitters on its staff with former Utah head coach Mark Numbers and recently graduated All-American Utah prop Spencer Vickery.

Both teams were eager to prove something, but it was Herriman that would assert itself right away.  The guests caused two turnovers in the Olympus half right away.  Olympus was able to clear twice by forcing Herriman to touch and kicking to clear, but the third attempt to relieve pressure found speedy fullback Beto Lui, who countered to 7 meters away before finding inside center Noah Vaea on the offload.  Vaea woud do the rest, breaking three tackles to touch down in the center for an easily converted try, 7-0.

An errant Titan restart put the Mustangs on attack again, with Leki Fotu rumbling 30 meters down the field before the ball found its way wide to Preston Miranda for what looked like another quick Herriman score.  Miranda’s foot was deemed to slip in to touch just before the ball touched down, however.  A nice counterattack by Lui off of the clear was well turned over by Olympus, who moved the ball in to the Herriman half for the first time all game before being forced out. 

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In what was to be a theme all evening, a series of hotly contested rucking and counter rucking ensued.  Herriman was a bit overaggressive and was whistled for leaving their feet a few times, giving Olympus the ball 5 meters out.  Misi Vakapuna and the Herriman forwards stood their ground against a hard charging Porter Baker, and when the Titans were whistled for not releasing, Vaea would find touch at midfield.   Olympus stole the lineout, but Vaea, an All-State safety with 12 interceptions for Herriman’s state championship football team, delivered the hit of the night, leveling Titan star Quinn Meier.  Herriman would squander several scoring opportunities with some careless play as Head Coach Derek Smith would visually show his displeasure at the Mustangs’ lack of patience and penchant to try and do too much at times, when the well-executed fundamental rugby that he preaches would serve his team just fine.

Momentum would be regained when the powerful Herriman scrum would force a turnover, and a darting run by Anthony Perschon would suck the defense in, allowing Tomasi Tonga to find speedster Brig Rush outside. Rush, in his first action since the LVI, would not be caught as he raced down the sideline for a score.  Lui would slot the difficult sideline conversion for a 14-0 advantage. 

Cameron and Nathan Latu, Baker, and the rest of the Titan pack would continue to frustrate Herriman at the breakdown, but a Dalton Saunders interception would cause an Olympus penalty and give Herriman a scrum.  Perschon would take the ball in to space and hit a gap, weaving through to just short of the goal line, where a hustling Fotu was there to pick from the ruck on force his way over the try line.  Jaeron Masina moved to 2-of-2 on conversions to take a 21-0 lead.  Rush would chase down a Vaea kick ahead for a quick tackle and poach, and the ball would move out wide to Tonga who was eyeing the try line but was forced out 10 meters away.  

Olympus would kick ahead in an attempt to clear the ball just before half, and Herriman would open with door with sloppiness at the breakdown.  The Mustangs were pinged at three straight rucks, and Baker would take advantage of a lapse in defensive alignment to sprint ahead for a near score.  The ball died, but the Titans were awarded a 5-meter scrum.  Perschon, Fotu, and Vaea all made nice tackles, the last forcing turnover ball which found its way to Gabe Mahuinga, who showed nice pace in breaking away to midfield before being caught.  Herriman knock-ons would halt two successive possessions, and Olympus would counter with one more chance in to injury time.  An apparent Titan knock on went unnoticed, and the bouncing ball would be picked up by Olympus at full pace.  With the Mustangs on their heels, discipline at the breakdown was lacking once more, and they were whistled once again at three consecutive rucks – the last of which found Baker rewarded for his continued hard running with a try.  Olympus would go in to halftime with some momentum and a reminder that they were not going to go away anytime soon.

The second half would begin like the first, with Herriman wasting no time in getting on the front foot. Levi Hunt, with fresh stitches in his head and a borrowed scrumcap from the opposition (not a surprising gesture from an always classy Brad Anderson and his Olympus program) burst ahead for a 30 meter jaunt, and Tonga would draw several defenders in on a twisting, turning run before finding newly inserted outside center Juney Leakehe, who would touch down for the score.  Leakehe has shown well in the past two weeks and is sure to continue to push for more playing time in an already strong Herriman midfield.   Lui’s boot would ring true to send him to 2-of-2 on the night for a 28-7 lead.

Anthony Perschon offloads. Shelli Simmons photo.
Herriman's Anthony Perschon offloads. Shelli Simmons photo.

Olympus would make several attempts at penetrating a stout Mustang backline, deepening up to gain more burst on to the ball, but were repeatedly turned away.  Vaea would turn a ball over from a ruck and find Hunt and Fotu for some nice go forward which would lead to an Olympus penalty.  Vaea would find the 5m line with a kick to touch, and although Herriman’s lineout would struggle without Karson Hammer who left with a muscle strain, a bouncing ball on the throw in would be picked up by Vakapuna who would power over for the score.  Lui would again make a tough kick to stay perfect on the night and extend the lead to 35-7.  With the game on the cusp of getting out reach, Olympus was desperately in need of an answer.

The Titans would get a needed break with about 15 minutes remaining by playing a bit of soccer, as a strange exchange which saw the ball being kicked back on forth on the ground saw an Olympus player find clearance downfield and in to touch in the Herriman half.  When Perschon mishandled the lineout ball, Olympus would go on attack.  Working through several phases, Meier would finally solve the defense which had frustrated him all night for a weaving, driving score to close the deficit somewhat, 35-14. 

With renewed vigor, Olympus would go back on the attack.  A missed tackle by Lui would give an outside gap, and the ensuing breakdown would see Meier pick from the base of a loosely formed ruck, outrun several Herriman defenders sideways, and burst up a gap for a 40 meter score to further cut in to the lead, 35-21.  

Sensing the need to regain momentum, the Herriman pack would right the ship.  The 280 pound Fotu would outsprint everybody to catch the ensuing kickoff on the full, and Vakapuna would provide some North-South penetration.  Halftime sub Drew McDaniel was a force at the breakdown, providing a constant physical presence and stability to clean up what had been a problem area in the first half.  An Olympus infraction for diving over was taken quick by Vaea, who put in a courageous performance after battling the flu earlier in the day.  The junior center ran a nice exchange with Perschon, got the ball back, and sprinted in to a gap for his second score. Masina would keep the Mustang placekickers perfect on the night by drilling the conversion for a 42-21 advantage.

With the game out of reach, the Mustangs would use the remainder of their allotted subs to give Fotu, Hunt, et al a rest after a night which saw a very high workrate put in by the majority of players on both sides.  Olympus would take advantage of the subsequent drop off and Baker would score two more tries in the last five minutes of the game to complete his hat trick and make the final a much more respectable 42-31.