A National Weather Service high wind advisory didn’t scare off Cal Poly, Utah or a handful of fans at Saturday’s match in Mesquite, Nev. Despite southwest winds averaging 35 mph and gusts of 45 mph that frequently carried the ball meters farther than intended, the Mustangs and Utes battled through the wind and stormy conditions. Utah proved to get the better of both Cal Poly and the wind, securing a 36-5 victory.
For both teams, Saturday’s game proved to not only be an opportunity to assess skills and strategies that need to be fine-tuned in the coming weeks before the DI-A regular season kicks off in March, but the ability to use field conditions to one’s offensive advantage.
“It was a tough game with even tougher conditions,” said Cal Poly head coach Dave Burnett. “It really came down to who knew how to best use the wind, and Utah used it to their advantage in the second half.”
Utah head coach Blake Burdette then added, “The weather was a bit erratic so it made the game a little sloppy.”
Starting the game, Utah kicked to the Mustangs against the wind, quickly dropping the ball just 20 meters into the Cal Poly half. Blustery conditions slowed the Mustangs offense and Utah’s forwards forced the ball into a lineout to gain possession early into play.
However, the game remained scoreless for the first half of the 40, with inconsistent possession by either team. Cal Poly’s forwards held off the Utes’ backline, while Utah intercepted several Cal Poly throws that were caught by the wind.
Scrum play proved key for Utah in the 20th minute when the Utes won a set piece just outside the Cal Poly 22 meter. Scrumhalf Don Pati quickly set the ball to outside center Trevor Trowbridge, who dodged two Mustangs, cutting inside to the try line for the score. Wind knocked the conversion attempt by flyhalf Tonata Lauti aside, keeping a 5-0 Utah lead.
The second try of the game came from Pati minutes later, when Utah forward Alex Muehle picked the ball out of the scrum to pass the ball to Pati for a five-meter run and try, extending Utah’s lead to 10-0. Muehle picked up a try of his own just minutes later, grabbing the ball out of a Utah scrum at the Mustang 22 to end the half 15-0.
At the start of the second 40, the Utes began to use the weather to their advantage, gaining on offense with short kicks that were carried by the wind deep into Mustang territory.
Minutes into the half Utah’s backs capitalized on another turnover in the scrum, and converted the try to lead 22-0.
Cal Poly’s strong defense held off pounding attacks from Utah throughout the half and forced numerous scrums in the process.
After another set of tries and one conversion that put the Utes up 36-0, the Mustangs countered with a strong offensive push of their own in the waning minutes of the half. Like the majority of Utah’s tries, Cal Poly scored off a scrum that was deep into opposing territory. A Cal Poly scrum put the ball into the hands of reserve scrumhalf Thomas Leacox, who scored off a 10-meter run inside.
The Cal Poly try ended the game with a 36-5 final.
Despite the high number of tries, play itself was slowed over the 80 minutes due to a high scrum count. Lots of turnovers in the scrums from both teams resulted in the majority of tries.
Pati lead the game with three tries.
Both teams walked away from Saturday’s game with new foci for the upcoming weeks.
“We’re really lucky to play a team like Utah so early in the year,” said Burnett. “We held our composure well against a very good team, which bodes well for us for later in the season. We still have fine-tuning to do.”
Added Utah’s Lauti, “Our backs showed a lot more versatility compared to last year. We’re really coming together, even though were still making position changes and working on fundamentals.”