The Herriman High School program pulled off a huge upset in upended Trybe Rugby (formerly Highland) 33-022 Saturday in Utah action.
The highly anticipated matchup saw both teams enter the game undefeated in league play, with Herriman coming off of a costly 25-5 win over power United, a game which saw them lose three starters for the season, and Trybe coming off of a 40-0 shellacking of Skyline, where they incurred a few injuries, as well.
The game was a physical, intense battle throughout, and was locked up scoreless for about the first 20 minutes of the game. Both teams were employing similar styles, which makes sense since Herriman head coach Jeff Wilson was Highland’s forwards coach for ten years, and Herriman’s staff boasts four former Highland players.
After some sloppy play by both sides due to the wind, Trybe found themselves camped in the Herriman half for several phases, and their patience was finally rewarded with a try in the corner. Trybe’s big prop nailed an impressive sideline conversion for a 7-0 lead.
Herriman would answer right back on the ensuing kickoff. Some nice defense led to a turnover, and the forwards took matters from there. Lock Gabe Ruflin carried several tacklers inside the 5 meter line, and Prop Alec Mikkelsen would not be denied for a try in the corner. The conversion in to the wind was nowhere close, but the gap was closed to 7-5.
The two teams would battle back and forth, with hard running by Trybe’s inside center, and hard rucking by #8 Kingston Liavaa finally paying off in a penalty kick that hit true for a halftime lead of 10-5.
Trybe went on the attack in the second half, with a high ball that was mishandled by Herriman. Two phases later, another try in the corner (but no miracle conversion this time) and Trybe led 15-5. Ever resilient, Herriman rode the defense of Flankers AJ White and Tyler Chapman to a 5 meter scrum. 235-pound 8-man Tueni Lupemanu, who is the quarterback on the Herriman football team, picked up and bowled his way over for the try, which was converted by Prop Irvin Medina, 15-12.
Trybe wasted no time in answering back, with a quick try (again, in the corner). The kick was once again difficult in to the wind, but the score was set at 20-12. The game was increasingly physical, and saw both teams lose 2 starters to injury. Back and forth play saw Lupemanu continue to be a force on both sides of the ball, and some quick ball off of the ruck saw Herriman work the ball down the line, finding outside center Vuni Bloomfield for a try that was just barely put down before he was nearly tackled out of the back of the try zone. Inside center Francis Bernard slotted the conversion, and the score was tight once again at 20-19.
Trybe would once again move the ball back down the field, utilizing a combination of Herriman penalties and getting the ball in to space. Some nifty footwork and wide passes off of the scrum sent the ball wide to wing Liti Molisi for the score. On a sidenote, the game featured the two leading rushers in the state from the gridiron last fall, with #2 rusher Molisi, and All-State selection from East High School, and the state’s leading rusher Bernard, an All-State selection from Herriman.
The failed conversion in to the wind would put the score at 25-19 with ten minutes remaining. Looking for a spark, Herriman put two freshmen on the field, center Sione Bloomfield and Lock Kalisi Moli. The fresh, young legs paid dividends right away, as Herriman refused to be denied on the home field in front of a large crowd. Moli was a force in the rucks, and Bloomfield was a playmaker in the backline. Several wide balls gradually worked their way down the field. A big kick in to touch by Bernard put the Mustangs in position, and a ruck from the ensuing lineout saw the ball find its way in to space to Lupeamanu, who surprised everyone by not trying to bull his way over the goal line, instead passing to Bernard who dove across for the try. Bernard followed up with a clutch conversion and Herriman had its first lead of the game, 26-25 with 5 minutes remaining.
Herriman fielded cleanly on the kick, with Ruflin and Chapman pounding ahead to try and run out the clock. Trybe got a big turnover, only to be followed by a ball back to Herriman. Some chippy play, constant throughout the day, would escalate in to a red card for Trybe, and Herriman would take advantage of the shortage. Bernard, now playing Flyhalf, would chip over the top of the Trybe line. Racing ahead to gather his own ball, he outran the opposition 50 meters in for a score and an emphatic nail in the proverbial coffin. Lupeamanu stepped in to slot the conversion for a tired Bernard and the referee’s whistle blew at full time, 33-25.
This was an epic battle between two very strong teams, and another indication that parity has come to Utah high school rugby.
Trybe must now regroup to get ready for fierce rival United, while Herriman heads in to a Spring Break tour with momentum, having defeated the last two club National Champions in back to back weeks.