Utah HS 7s Season Concludes
Utah HS 7s Season Concludes
Heading in to the Rugby Utah 2017 Fall 7s season, one would assume that 3-time defending champion Herriman would begin the year as favorites; after all, the Mustangs are the only team to ever win the Utah Fall 7s series, and had dropped only two contests in the past three fall seasons.
Playing experience, however, suggested the scales may tip in another direction. United, who finished 2nd in the 2016 series, boasted a wealth of veteran talent, including USA U19 and U20 veteran Bailey Wilson, along with Utah Cannibals mainstays Billy Tenney, Kenyon Matua, Eli Pulu, and Owen Gubler. The Mustangs, skilled but young and green, would run out only one player with significant prior Varsity experience in fellow Cannibal Taysan Hammer.
As early as the completion of pool play in Leg 1, it became apparent that the 2017 series would be a two team race between the familiar rivals. Both teams breezed through pool play without much resistance, with Kau Toa on a bit of a down year and a Barbarians team that could never quite get all of its talent on the same page to give the top 2 a serious challenge. United would come out strong in the Leg 1 final, with Wilson and Tenney using their size advantage to draw in defenders and disrupt the breakdown. As expected with an experienced side, they were patient and clinical, and did a good job bottling up Hammer after the Herriman star had touched down 11 times the previous 4 games. Diminutive halfback Gavin Flint would provide a spark for the Mustangs with a big hit on Matua to go with two tries, but United was simply too big, too strong, and executed too well in a performance that was more impressive than the 22-19 final score would indicate.
Herriman’s Gold side would finish a spot behind its Red, edging out the Barbarians for 3rd, while Herriman White would win the JV competition in a come from behind win over Wasatch.
Leg 2 would see more of the same from the two front runners, although both would be without their playmaking halfbacks, with Matua unavailable for United and Flint suffering a season-ending injury for Herriman. United dominated pool play with by a 125-0 margin over the Barbarians, Idaho Gray Wolves, and Wasatch. Herriman Red was almost as good, outscoring Herriman Gold, Olympus, and Kau Toa 117-15. Easy semifinal victories paved the way for another stellar final, but Herriman’s inexperienced side was jelling quickly, and denied possession for United for most of the game. Combined with a strong defense, they held the series leaders to 7 points while Hammer, Sterling Burr, and Kyle Farmer provided the offensive fireworks in a 19-7 win to even the series standings at the top at the halfway mark of the season.
The Barbarians put together a nice performance, downing Herriman Gold for 3rd, and Wasatch improved their previous week’s finish with a Leg 2 JV win over a good United JV side.
With a tie for 1st place, Leg 3 would become extremely important after a one week layoff for all teams. The extra practice time seemed to help deepen the field a bit, as United and Herriman Red both had tougher than expected semifinals following another dominant round of pool play. The Barbarians would give Herriman a scare, with the Mustangs pulling away late for a 29-21 win, while United had to work to put away a pesky Herriman Gold side, 28-14. The final would be hotly contested, with both teams fully aware of the advantage that they would gain going in to the final leg with a victory. United was the better team early on, with Wilson and company controlling possession and sucking in the Herriman defense, then spinning the ball wide to their dynamic speedsters on the edge. With Hammer once again the focus of the United defense, Herriman would manage a single score from lightning quick Tanner Foulger and would go in to halftime with United in clear control. The script would flip in the second half, however, as it was now Herriman who would starve United of possession. Ryver Roskelley and Jake Barker were instrumental in keeping the ball in tight, and Hammer was a defensive force in the open field, making several key tackles on Wilson and Pulu breakaways. United would retain the lead throughout, but Herriman would make some magic happen at the death trailing 15-10. Down to their last possession with time expired, Hammer took a penalty tap and made a break through the United line inside 15 meters. Barker would pick quickly and power his way down to about 2m out, where Payton Fountaine would pick up and reach over for a try under the posts to level the score at 15. On a day where each team had yet to make a conversion, Fountaine would be called upon for the clutch kick to follow up his try. The kick would split the posts, giving Herriman a thrilling win in a game that was a microcosm of the series as a whole – intense and evenly matched. Herriman Gold would reclaim the 3rd spot in the standings, getting revenge over the Barbarians in a close contest, and Herriman White would win its second JV leg 26-0 over United JV.
After two weeks off, Leg 4 commenced with both series titles still in doubt. Herriman Red had a 2-1 series lead coming in in the varsity competition, but a United victory would force a tiebreaker, with the Mustangs holding an 11-point advantage in head to head point differential. Herriman White and Wasatch came in tied for the lead in the JV standings, so there was plenty to play for. A scheduling quirk with the ACT test led to a few teams having to drop out, leaving only 4 Varsity teams in the competition. The only way for the remaining teams to play their full slate of games was to play a round robin with one pool, so Herriman and United would meet twice. The pool play match was tightly contested and a study in balance, with both teams reasonably confident of making the finals and subbing a bit more than usual, while still trying to gain the psychological advantage that a victory would provide. Herriman would win a very good, very close game 21-17 and gain momentum in to the semifinals. To the surprise of no one, the rivals would square off in the finals with the Fall 7s series title on the line. United would once again come out strong, but the extended layoff seemed to do the young Herriman side greater benefit, as they showed significant improvement over the inexperienced lads they were when they took the field in Leg 1. Farmer would touch down twice, Hammer and Roskelley would do lots of heavy lifting with several breakaways and numerous open field tackles, and Herriman would not only overcome two yellow cards, but would score shorthanded tries on both of them, punctuated by Sterling Burr’s 90 meter backbreaking sprint late in the contest. The Mustangs would put a stamp on their 4th straight Utah Fall 7s title with their best performance of the season, 26-7. Hammer, who often looks as though he is moving at a different speed than the rest of the field, would touch down for a ridiculous 43 tries on the season.
Herriman Gold secured 3rd with a win over Kau Toa, and Herriman White would bring home the JV series title by besting Wasatch in the semifinals and adding a punctuation mark in the finals by defeating the Las Vegas Blackhawks Varsity side in the latter’s only series appearance, 28-26.