High school rugby: United tops Highland for rugby title

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SANDY — Pandemonium broke loose Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium as United got the monkey off their back and defeated Highland in the USA Rugby U19 National Championship game 22-17.

"We always knew it would happen," said United coach Colin Puriri. "We have planned for this moment all year long."

Earlier in the year the Alpine-based club lost by a single point to Highland and Puriri said he thought that game was intense. "But this one surpassed that last game in intensity," he said.

Game MVP Ezra Hirawani agreed.

"We wanted it more," Hirawani said.

United did come out with intensity. So much so that during the Haka challenge before the match began, the referees had to separate players.

The first 10 minutes of the match was a fight for field position as both teams employed the kick almost on every possession.

Then United struck first with Jared Whippy crossing the try line and United tacked on the kick to make it 7-0.

A little more than 17 minutes in Highland was assessed a penalty and United converted the kick to go up 10-0.

This seemed to frustrate Highland and they drew a yellow card putting them a man down. United took advantage as Joshua Whippy scored on the next try less than a minute later.

Highland came roaring back after half time just 3:20 in as Arawa Elkington busted over the try line to get Highland on the board.

Joshua Anderson scored shortly thereafter and it was a match again at 17-12.

"We caught up with their intensity in the second half," Highland coach Larry Gelwix said.

Highland tied the match at 17 apiece but then United retaliated with Brian Mehl rushing one in for the final five point margin.

At the end of the game Highland was inside the 5-yard line then lost the ball and United kicked it out with 2 seconds left and prevailed for the win.

It was Gelwix's first loss since 2006 and just the third in 10 years.

In the high school division, Snow Canyon fell to Fallbrook, Calif., 24-7 and recorded a 2-1 mark in the tournament.

In girls play, Salt Lake City's Lowland filled in for a no-show team and faced off with the Fallbrook girls team, who were the No. 1 seed, and lost 74-0.

Lowland coach, Olive Ahotaeiloa said it was a learning experience for her team. "We had fun with it and we will take it into next season."

Later Lowland played Kent, Washington and lost 45-0.

The Lowland team is only in its first year and posted a 5-2 record before the tournament. The Lowland girls team will play again Sunday against Portland, Maine, at 10 a.m.

e-mail: wjewkes@desnews.com

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