By Colton Strickler
Major League Rugby
Fort Bend ISD had 55 football players signed national letters of intent to play college football last Wednesday in a ceremony at Wheeler Fieldhouse.
The San Diego Legion needed all 80 minutes of Saturday night’s match against the Houston SaberCats to come out with a victory.
Houston (1-1) managed to hold a lead over San Diego (2-1) for 78 minutes of the match, but the defiant Legion kept applying pressure and the SaberCats’ stout defense eventually cracked resulting in a 17-13 San Diego victory in the final minutes.
Saturday night’s match really wasn’t so much a tale of two halves as it was the definition of a slow and steady climb for the Legion. Battling a SaberCats team with a lead is difficult enough but doing it in the rain with an offense that isn’t clicking the way it’s designed to makes it much more difficult. The Legion managed to stick to their plan long enough that when they were finally able to execute it, it paid dividends.
“In the second half we covered the backfield more efficiently and got on top on the scrums,” San Diego head coach Rob Hoadley explained after the match. “We shut down their offense but ultimately we generally need to show a lot more quality in executing our basics. When it counted at the end, we showed great quality under pressure to score the final try to seal the win.”
The Legion found themselves in a hole early after Houston wing Josua Vici took a switch from fly-half Sam Windsor and sliced through the San Diego defense for a try. Windsor nailed the conversion and then a hit penalty goal after the 20-minute hydration mark to give the SaberCats a 10-0 lead.
Both sides traded penalty goals later in the first half and Houston took a 13-3 lead into halftime. That’s when the tides changed and San Diego began to chip away at the lead by winning the battle of field position according to Houston head coach Justin Fitzpatrick.
“I thought we really controlled position in the first half and failed to do that in the second and that allowed a lot of San Diego pressure to mount and mount and mount,” Fitzpatrick said after the match. “In the end, we cracked. That was disappointing because I thought we really did a good job in the first half and I thought we had a lot of effort and were very, very solid for large chunks of the game defensively in the second half. But, that lack of position heats up the pressure and in the end, with only a couple of minutes left on the clock, San Diego got their reward for their pressure.”
San Diego really wasn’t able to muster up any offense throughout the majority of the second half, but they were able to apply a significant amount of pressure on Houston and that ultimately ended up being the difference.
It originally looked like the Legion weren’t going to be rewarded their hard work as the clock wound down. The fruits of their labor finally came in the form of a Keni Nasoqeqe try. Fly-half and team captain Joe Pietersen knocked the conversion through to cut into SaberCats’ lead to just three points, but they still had some work to do with a limited amount of time to do it.
Even with their backs up against the wall, the Legion just kept coming. Pietersen eventually found a weak spot in Houston’s defense and spun a pass out wide to Nate Augspurger who dove into a rain-soaked corner for a try. Pietersen hit the extremely important conversion to give the Legion a 17-13 lead with only a handful of second to play. That four-point deficit meant that Houston couldn’t rely on the automatic leg of Sam Windsor and would have to manufacture a try with a very limited amount of time. The Legion never even gave Houston a chance and walked away with the victory.
“I am extremely happy with how the guys kept pushing, knowing that we can score and pull the game through,” Legion captain Joe Pietersen said. “It is nice to know we can win it when it is scrappy, and I believe we are progressing as the season goes on.”