by Brett Anker
In the most thrilling game of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup opening round, Utah edged Air Force 36-31. The Utes blew a late lead but managed to score with under five minutes to play snatch the victory from the Zoomies.
“That was the kind of game that was probably great for the fans but terrible for the coaches,” Utah coach Jon Law said of the back and forth contest.
Taylor Thomas opened the scoring for the Utes. The winger just returned from injury and made a huge impact on the game. Thomas scored the eventual game winner late in the second half.
“Taylor’s performance today was gutty. He was still missing a bit of his step. He is ok linearly but laterally he is not what he was. He is coming back from a knee injury,” added Law. “Most of the season we have been playing him at outside center and we felt that today he was a better matchup at wing.”
Fellow back line player Casey Raymond scored again for Utah before Air Force got on the board. The Zoomies responded, however, with two tries to take a 12-10 lead. The pendulum swung back in favor of Utah after the two Zoomie scores, with Gabe Ruflin and Josh Webber dotting down for Utah. At the half, Utah went in with a 22-12 lead.
Air Force struck back early in the second half but Utah once again stymied its momentum. Adding two more tries, the Utes led 29-19 with less than 10 minutes to play. Utah seemingly dodged a few bullets as well, as Air Force had two tries called back. One try was called back for a knock and the other the referee awarded a penalty to Utah.
Things started to get interesting, however. Air Force barged in for a try to cut the lead to 29-24. Minutes later, the Zoomies were deep in their own territory and not looking dangerous. All of a sudden, Air force busted through the line for a 60-meter run. Braden Smith received an offload and sprinted the rest of the way for a try under the posts. With the conversion, Air Force led 31-29.
“All credit to Air Force. As is to be expected from Air Force, or for that matter any service academy. They know of no other way to play for a full 80,” Law added.
Utah kicked off with very little time left but managed to get a turnover deep in Air Force territory. After a few phases, Thomas found space out wide and scampered in for the game winning score.
The Utes showed a lot of grit in this game. Coming into the weekend, nearly the entire team had come down with the flu. Law indicated that they were a bit sluggish on their recycling and support but got the job done nonetheless.