by Brett Anker
In its first foray into the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup, Utah Valley University defeated UCLA 40-14 to advance to the quarterfinals. The Wolverines used strong defensive pressure and timely scoring to pull off an upset victory.
With the two teams being relatively unfamiliar, it took a while for the teams to get going. Neither team really got any momentum going and the game remained scoreless mid way through the first half.
“The first part of the game felt like the opening round of a heavyweight boxing match where they were trying to feel each other out,” said UVU coach Adam Griffee. “There were a few jabs here and there but nothing substantial.”
Utah Valley got the first punch, however, mid way through the half. UVU poached a ball and flanker Fatai Makavaha busted through a few phases later for a 7-0 lead.
The game remained 7-0 until the final minute of the first half. UVU pounded away at the line and Tavita Lealiiee dotted down right on the halftime whistle. UVU nailed a conversion out wide and the Wolverines took a 14-0 lead into the break.
UVU was able to hold UCLA scoreless thanks to tremendous defense, particularly from the back three.
“Our back three was great. You could see what UCLA really wanted to focus on in their attack. They wanted to overload the wings but we did not miss any tackles and it really kept the game in our hands,” said Griffee.
The great defense continued early in the second half. UCLA pounded away at the line but the big Wolverine pack turned over UCLA and broke down the field. A few line breaks and a couple of offloads later, Ka’ohu Maumau found himself under the posts for a 21-0 lead.
UCLA battled back with two quick scores to cut the lead to 21-14. UVU’s defense pressure let up a bit and UCLA was able to capitalize on a yellow card against the Wolverines.
“We put in a couple of subs and it took them a minute to get up to speed in the game,” Griffee said of the defensive lapse. “UCLA is a good team and you cannot show them a window but thankfully we responded.”
UVU weathered the storm, however, getting a try to extend the lead back to a two score game. The Wolverines added two more tries late to seal the victory 40-14.
For UVU, this is a monumental win for the program. The team was eager to prove they belong with some of the best programs in the country
“It was such a great venue, good coaches, great team, well disciplined,” Griffee said of UCLA. “We are humbled to be here. Humbled to win. It was an amazing experience and we can’t thank Varsity Cup enough for the opportunity.”