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Wayne State Mounts Comeback to Overhaul Humboldt

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Wayne State Mounts Comeback to Overhaul Humboldt

Try time for Wayne State. Alex Goff photo.

Wayne State College mounted a stirring, wind-aided comeback to overhaul a 15-0 deficit and defeat defending small-college champs Cal Poly Humboldt Friday in the NCR Men’s Small College semis.

Led by a very smart game from flyhalf Jayden James, a huge scrummaging contribution from tighthead Trent Draper, and with blindside flanker Sean Munemo putting in a full shift, Wayne State inched their way back into the game.

Humboldt had the run of the play, and the wind, in the first half and with Latu Kolopeaua getting some go-forward and backs such as Nathan Riley and Wyatt Simison running well, they came very close to scoring early. But Wayne State’s defense held on desperately and it was a long, long time before all that pressure translated into points. Finally a massive break down the sideline from wing Brian Wright almost got Humboldt to the line. Wayne State wing Asante Rikhosto hauled him down by James came in from an offside position to prevent clean ball. Penalty Humboldt and a yellow card to James. 

Soon thereafter the forwards put it over with Logan Zampa doing the honors. Conversion no good and it was 5-0.

Wayne State almost got three back right off the restart after an offside player picked up a knock-on. But with James off the field the kicking duties fell to Vuyo Mdlalose and while his effort went wide, all of that served to work the time off the James yellow card.

The half ended with Humboldt coming close to scoring again, but it would remain 5-0. Still the Lumberjacks stormed on. Prop Isaac Khelo, and soon after that they burned Wayne State for another. Kicks no good, and it was 15-0.

But Wayne State had the wind and once they got some ball they used the breeze to their advantage. With nothing on James would thump the ball down the field, and then smart, patient defense would produce penalties. James slotted two to make it 15-6. With Mdlalose and Diego Stefani causing problems in the midfield, they got close again and Wayne State scored in the corner. Suddenly it was 15-11.

Not long after more smart field management from James and the Wayne State forwards consolidated nicely leading to two tries and a 21-15 lead. James then hit the touchline conversion on the second and, critically, Wayne State led by two scores 23-15. Humboldt had looked tired by this point—Wayne State Head Coach Bryn Chivers said he has depth past the gameday 23 and he made some substitutions early in the second half, while Humboldt kept their starters on longer. Flagging, the Lumberjacks steeled themselves for a big push and they got one over. The conversion attempt hit the post, and a few moments later Wayne State kicked to touch to end the game.

Wayne State knew they had a speed and kicking advantage and chose to play against the wind in the first half in order to use the wind when Cal Poly Humboldt would be more tired. It worked. Their patience in taking points when they were on offer and working their way slowly up the scoreboard was also smart. And certainly goalkicking was a factor, as Humboldt went 0-for-4 on conversions, while James slotted two penalties and a conversion to augment his side’s three tries to pull it out.

Wayne State takes on Babson in Sunday's final.