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Thunder Rides Defensive Storm to HS Club Championship

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Thunder Rides Defensive Storm to HS Club Championship

Thunder, in purpole and white, defended their line with aggression. Alex Goff photo.

Thunder Rugby defeated the favored Charlotte Tigers 13-8 in a tense, defensive battle that owed much of its appeal to the drama of the moment.

Thunder’s defense was once again massive. Through the three games of the Boys HS National Championships, Thunder gave up only three tries.

Thunder started the game putting Charlotte under pressure and continued to hit hard. Their defensive pressure forced a clearance kick to go out on the full, resulting in a Thunder lineout just outside the Charlotte 22.

From there, Thunder attacked, Charlotte was pinged for offside, and scrumhalf Solomon Williams popped the kick over for a 3-0 lead.

That lead lasted for much of the first half. Charlotte was able to get into the Thunder half and eventually got a penalty. However, Porter Goodrum’s attempt drifted wide.

Thunder came back, making a break and forcing the Tigers to scramble. Thunder got a penalty right in front of the posts, but Williams was wide with the kick.

This is how the game continued to progress. Each team was hitting the other very hard. There was precious little space to move and it became a battle of attrition as much as anything else. Attrition and not making too many mistakes. Both teams made too many.

So every play became huge. Charlotte wing Finlay Isaac’s open-field ankle tackle was a brilliant move, and probably saved a try. 

It also sparked a turnover and another chance for Charlotte. This time, they ran the pick-and-goes on the Thunder line, and when it became clear they wouldn’t get through too easily, Goodrums popped over a drop goal to tie the game 3-3.

Thunder replied, sending their big runners up the middle, earning a penalty, and seeing Williams put it over. 6-3 at halftime.

The second half remained extremely close. Both teams had their opportunities, but it also seemed that players were too nervous to test the outside too much—a turnover in isolation could end up being a try the other way.

Finally, as the game wound down, Thunder broke through, capping off a long period of pressure to take it over. Williams was good on the kick and it was 13-3. Under the kosh Charlotte responded, scoring an impressive try out wide with only about a minute left. At 13-8 they could tie it up with another try, and got the ball from the restart. But Thunder got it back, and that was it.

It was a monumental defensive effort from Thunder, bottling up a team that had all sorts of ways to score. Thunder just came to Kansas City not believing anyone’s hype, beating the #3 seed, shutting out the #7 team, and then beating the #1 seed, the team ranked by GRR at #1 all season.

“Hats off to Thunder on a cracker of a match,” said Charlotte Head Coach Erik Saxon. “They did an excellent job of denying us possession and kept us in the B channel, which was their advantage in the match. Well-earned.”

"What a game," added Thunder Coach Jacob Campbell. "It was a great defensive effort and it was a team effort. It had to be."