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Big Weekend at NAI 7s for Rebel Rugby Academy

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Big Weekend at NAI 7s for Rebel Rugby Academy

JD Martin on his way to scoring the semifinal overtime winner. Alex Goff photo.

This past weekend was a nice, big step forward for Rebel Rugby Academy as their three teams all brought home hardware.

The U18 Elite Boys team won their NAI 7s championship. Rebel Rugby Wins NAI 7s U18 Elite. The U18 Open team took home the Plate, losing just one game, to eventual finalists Kansas City Jr. Blues. And the U16s won their championship.

"It was fantastic to see the hard work from the staff and the players pay off," said program director Ethan Pougnet, "We've been finding more competition for the players; we've been going to Bloodfest for the past couple of years and Tropical 7s. We've had our U16s play up with U18s and go toe-to-toe with them."

Getting that experience for players helped immensely. Of the U16 team that played in Salt Lake City, about half had played with the team last year and four or five played in Tropical 7s or Bloodfest. So even the players who were new to the NAI 7s weren't new to this type of competition.

And it showed. The Rebel U16s lost their opening game against Atlantis 19-10, but they didn't fold. Even when, because of a late cancelation, one of their pool games was a forfeit and they were left with one must-win game on Day One. This was an excellent place for a young team of players who didn't know each other all that well to falter. Instead, they got by a tough Provo Steelers team 22-12.

Close games were the story after that. They beat a 3-0 Gorilla side 19-14 in the quarterfinals. Rebel then exacted revenge against Atlantis in the semis, battling through two cards that had them down to five players to ge tto overtime. JD Martin (see photo above) then broke through to win it 17-12 in extra time. (Zach Maughan, who got a red card in that game, successfully appealed it down to a yellow. He was able to play in the final.)

In the final, once again it was back-and-forth. A hugely talented and physical San Mateo side, which had to work very hard to get by Layton Christian in the semis (and it was Layton that was down to five men in tat game), met them in the final. With time winding down, Maughan, in the game because his appeal had worked, scored the game-winning try to put Rebel through 28-24.

"Day One was tough because we wanted those games to find out how we could come together and what we had," said Rebel Academy U16 Head Coach Brad Dufek. "And we didn't have that third game. But the guys reacted to that must-win situation really well. In every game we just fought for it. They went down two players and just kept working hard and playing defense. Everyone came up on defense and the energy was really high."

Maughan (Valor Christian) and Martin (Bixby) were very good for Rebel and so was another Valor talent, Niko Zaharas, but it was a team effort; it had to be.

The win, perhaps more so than the U18 Elite win, is a signal that Rebel Rugby Academy is here to stay. They have a strong geographic pool of players, with Colorado, Iowa, Dallas, and a little bit of Oklahoma providing athletes for the program. They have a strong group of coaches. And they have that attitude.

"We talked a lot going into the tournament about how we have to knock the door down," said Pougnet. "I think we did that."