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An All-Time Great Final Sees Herriman Champs

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An All-Time Great Final Sees Herriman Champs

Herriman in white, St. Ignatius in blue and gold. Alex Goff photo.

The Boys HS National Championships sparkled at the end, especially with the Herriman vs St. Ignatius single-school final.

Herriman lost a lead and gained it back to win in dramatic fashion 22-17 after losing the last two finals on the final play. In doing so, Herriman overcame a skilled, smart, and enormously brave St. Ignatius team in the program’s first National Championship.

It’s not that Ignatius hasn’t been good enough to compete at Nationals, they just haven’t opted to do it. This year they did, and you could be forgiven for thinking they might make some first-year mistakes (they did, and overcame them) and wilt on the third day (they didn’t).

As they had all week, Ignatius fell behind early, turning the ball over after receiving the kickoff, and seeing Herriman attack immediately. Initially held up in-goal, Herriman attacked off their scrum and ran center Mason Barker through to score. No. 8 Caden Syddall added the extras and it was 7-0.

Strangely unperturbed, Ignatius pressured right off the restart, got a penalty, and ran some quick offloads to score on the left side. Bobby Voth was good on the kick and it was 7-7.

Handling Pressure

Ignatius then showed how you handle pressure in your own 22. Stuck close to their line the Wildcats ran a series of phases that all had a purpose to them. Back and forth they worked their way farther from their line, and when there was enough space, kicked clear. It was a professional job of getting out of trouble.

Herriman finally did get a scoring chance. After a couple of Ignatius penalties, Herriman tapped and spun it to wing Cam Connors, who weaved his way through several defenders. Syddall converted and it was 14-7. 

Back came Ignatius, earning a penalty that Voth slotted to inch his side closer at 14-10.

Problematic

The biggest problem for Herriman was the Ignatius tackling, Despite being bigger at almost every position, sometimes by a significant margin, the Mustangs players just couldn’t roll over the smaller Wildcats. Ignatius flanker Timmy Putka, who was likely the smallest player on the field, repeatedly made tackles on much larger players, bringing them crashing down.

For Ignatius, their problem was their lineout. They took the lineout on several penalties, but misfired too many times for them to be able to use their maul to much effectiveness.

Even So …

Even so, Ignatius kept coming. They took another lineout off a penalty and while the possession wasn’t good, it was possession. The Wildcats consolidated, made some ground, and then a nice short ball from Voth to center Marty Lenehan put the #12 in under the posted. The vocal Ignatius crowd went wild.

Now Herriman was in trouble. Down 17-14 they continued to have trouble getting out of their half. Their kicking was returned with interest from Voth, who was finding green and pinning the Mustangs back.

Finally, though, the big guys started to break a couple of tackles. Ignatius had been defending almost all week, and maybe some fatigue was setting in. Certainly they weren’t backing down. But wth Afa Kula, Dom Mitchell, and Zach Worthington thundering ahead, they got closer and closer and, finally, made it over. 

That made it 19-17 and Syddall then his the difficult conversion. It was a clutch kick because if the lead had remained at two points, a penalty or even a drop goal would have won it for Ignatius.

As it was, the Wildcats had a long way to go after the restart, Herriman stole the ball, and kicked to touch to end it.

This was a game worthy of a championship, a game between two teams with completely different backgrounds and experiences who earned and gave respect. It was well played, smartly played, tactical, physical, intense, and just plain fun to watch. Both teams had vocal fans that just made it more enjoyable as a spectacle. Neither team backed off, but in the end, Herriman’s power saw them through.

And their unity. Director of Rugby Jeff Wilson said it was the unity that made it happen.

"I wasn't sure what we had at the beginning of the season what we had, but this became the closest team we've ever had," he said.

And the most successful.