NOLA Holds Off Utah’s Comeback Attempt
NOLA Holds Off Utah’s Comeback Attempt
By: Colton Strickler, MLR Correspondent
The NOLA Gold and the Utah Warriors entered Saturday afternoon’s Week 9 fixture needing a win to give them a shot at the inaugural MLR Playoffs.
With so much on the line, it was clear that neither side was going to go down without a fight. In a match that featured six lead changes and 89 total points, the Gold (3-5) finished their season with a 46-43 win over the Warriors (2-5) and earned back some respect in the process.
“We came here today looking for respect,” Gold head coach Nate Osborne said after the match. “We haven’t played well the past few weeks, so we wanted to show what we can do today.”
According to Warriors head coach Alf Daniels, respect also played a factor as to why his team was unable to come up with the win.
“The first 15 minutes we came out and scored a couple of really good tries on the back of some good structure,” Daniels said after the match. “After that we had a little bit of a weak mindset and we started trying to score every time we touched the ball. We lost respect for the opposition and you just can’t do that and as a result, they punished us for it. Every time we made a mistake or a 50-50 pass it just about resulted in points for them.”
On a hot day smack dab in the middle of June, it was the Warriors who came out on fire. They wasted little time putting points on the board, with their first try of the day coming just four minutes into the match when fullback Don Pati took advantage of a line break by inside centre A.J. Tuineau in for a try.
Pati went back to work just four minutes later again taking a pass from Tuineau in for his second try of the match. Fly-half Jonny Linehan nailed the conversion to give the Warriors a 12-0 lead inside the first 10 minutes.
After a tough opening 10 minutes, the Gold found their way onto the scoreboard when eight-man Matt Hughston picked a ball out of the back of the scrum and stretched over the line for a try. Fly-half J.P. Eloff wasn’t able to convert, but the Gold found their way back into the match heading into the first water break.
Eloff made up for his missed conversion on the other side of the water break when he split the posts with a drop goal and nailed a penalty kick to cut the Warriors lead to just one.
The Gold took their first lead of the game just a few minutes later when wing Tim Maupin received a pass back inside from inside centre Taylor Howden off a scrum. Eloff was able to convert the crafty try, and the Gold lead 18-12.
NOLA wouldn’t have their first lead of the match for long.
Utah took it back just a few minutes later when wing Tonata Lauti caught the ball out wide and stepped hard off his right foot to slice through the Gold’s defensive line and in for the try. His try capped off a long sequence of phase play and gave the Warriors a 19-18 lead after Linehan’s conversion.
Just as soon as the Warriors grabbed the lead, the Gold grabbed it back when Eloff nailed a penalty kick.
The teeter-totter of lead changes continued when Linehan punched in a try of his own just to the right of the posts. He kicked his own conversion to give the Warriors a 26-21 lead heading into the half.
As hot as Utah came out in the first half, NOLA came out even hotter in the second half scoring 21 unanswered points on three-straight tries. The first came from wing Joeli Tikoisuva just two minutes into the half.
The Warriors threw a sloppy pass on the ensuing kickoff and the ball landed right in the hands of Eloff who took the ball in for a try.
The third try came just a few minutes later by way of Cameron Troxler. Eloff put the cap on the run with a penalty kick that placed the Warriors in a 17-point hole before they could blink.
The Warriors started their comeback with a long try from reserve Josh Anderson. Anderson took a NOLA kick in for a long try, shedding three tacklers in the process. They try gave the Warriors some life and brought the score to 43-31 heading into the second water break.
NOLA gave themselves some padding, and what turned out to be the difference in the score, with an Eloff kick in front of the posts to give them a 46-31 lead.
The Warriors stormed back a few minutes later when wing Fetu’u Vainikolo threw a dummy and shot through the space for a try. Linehan’s conversion cut the lead to just eight in the 66th minute. They made things really interesting in the 75th minute when Ray Forrester bulldozed his way in for the final try of the match. Linehan couldn’t hit the tough conversion, but the Warriors trailed by just three heading into the final minutes off the match.
The comeback came grinding to a halt in stoppage time when an errant pass resulted in a turnover, giving the Gold the 46-43 win.
“The biggest difference was our unforced errors that we made as a team,” Daniels said. “Too many 50-50 passes and a lack of discipline at our own end of the field that allowed them to kick penalty points and score tries of our mistakes.”
Both Utah and NOLA picked up bonus points in the match. Unfortunately for NOLA, Utah’s bonus point knocked them out of the MLR Playoffs. NOLA’s 17 points on the season are not going to be enough to sneak into the tournament due to the point differential. Even without a playoff berth, Osborne knows how big the win was for his team moving forward.
“It was massive for our program,” Osborne said. “We showed what we can do when we play the way we train to and want to.”
Utah’s bonus point brings them to 17 points on the season, just outside of the final playoff spot. Depending on what the San Diego Legion do in their final two matches of the season, the Utah Warriors can punch their ticket to the tournament with a victory over the visiting Houston SaberCats in their final regular season match of the season on Saturday, June 23.
“It’s pretty simple really,” Daniels said ahead of his match. “We just have to keep our composure and have patience.”
Tries: Matt Hughston, Tim Maupin, Joeli Tikoisuva, J.P. Eloff, Cameron Troxler
Penalties: J.P. Eloff (4/4)
Drop Goals: J.P. Eloff (1/1)
Conversions: J.P. Eloff (3/5)
Tries: Don Pati (2), Tonata Lauti, Jonny Linehan, Josh Anderson, Fetu’u Vainikolo, Ray Forrester
Drop Goals N/A
Conversions: Jonny Linehan (4/7)
Colton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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