The #3-ranked Herriman Mustangs defeated fellow in-state single school #7 Snow Canyon 17-11 on a chilly day at Herriman High School in Utah this weekend. Herriman came in undefeated and could secure the #1 seed for the playoffs and the regular season league title with a victory.
Snow Canyon was looking to prove its mettle against the upstart Mustangs. After a spirited 7/8 game which saw the Herriman Youth upset Snow Canyon's Youth, who had come in to the game with only one loss, the several hundred spectators on hand were anxiously anticipating a spirited Varsity contest.
Unfortunately, with the previously assigned official cancelling the night before, the teams had to wait an hour to kick off while a replacement official was found.
Once the game began, Herriman went on the attack right away and moved the ball in to scoring position quickly, but as would be the theme for the first half, sloppy play would result in several turnovers. Snow Canyon showed themselves to be an extremely well-coached and fundamentally sound team under the direction of Coach Michael Puriri.
With the wind at their backs, they employed a deft kicking game combined with excellent recycling at the breakdown and were rewarded with a penalty. Using said wind, Snow Canyon's outside center showed a magnificent boot and nailed the goal from about 45 meters out, 3-0. Herriman's restart did not go 10 meters, and Snow Canyon used a nice kicking attack to once again pin Herriman deep. The sloppiness continued by the Mustangs and another penalty, this one a bit closer, was slotted for a 6-0 Warrior advantage.
While Herriman struggled with possession in the scrum from some bad luck with kicked balls, they were very efficient in the lineout on both offense and defense. This advantage, along with an improved counterattack, led to a great scoring chance. Junior wing Thad Hay, an imposing runner at 6-1, 190, who had several big runs and big kicks on the day, took off around the edge and ran around the defense for what appeared to be a long try. However, Hay tried a bit too hard to get the ball to the middle for a touchdown, and he was stripped of the ball by a Snow Canyon defender who had not given up on the play.
Although the scoring chance was lost, Herriman kept the ball down in the Snow Canyon end and, using great defensive pressure, forced a knock-on and a 5 meter scrum. 240-pound No. 8 Tueni Lupeamanu picked and bulled his way over for the score. Lupeamanu was a physical force all day long, punishing runners, tacklers, and ruckers alike with a fiery will to win. Inside center Francis Bernard was true on the conversion and Herriman had a 7-6 lead, one that they would carry in to half time thanks to some stingy defense on the ensuing Snow Canyon attack.
Particularly effective on the defensive end were open side Billy Ward, who was a force at what seemed like every tackle. Ward was making his first start in place of injured flankers Tyler Chapman, who is an emotional leader for the team, and Conner Dickerson, both of whom have broken noses. Ward certainly made his case to remain on the field on a permanent basis. Also making his presence felt was blind side Jeremy Hinton, who showed his highest work rate of the season.
The second half saw some early sloppy play, but settled in to a downright physical affair, with lots of great hitting from both sides. Snow Canyon would end up worse for wear of the two teams, with two players leaving the field with injuries, while Herriman stayed with their starting 15. With the teams switching sides, it was Herriman’s turn to use the boot to their advantage. Snow Canyon was forced to keep the ball on the ground a bit more and play right in to Herriman's strength, an aggressive and suffocating defense which has given up a total of 81 points in 9 games.
Herriman started to use their spacing a bit better as well, and moved down the field with the playmaking abilities of Moliki Mulitalo and Bernard. It was Bernard who would score the first points of the second half, picking up quickly from a ruck and racing down the sideline for a diving unconverted try in the corner, 12-6. Herriman would continue to use the boot to their advantage, while Snow Canyon could get little going from a series of penalty taps thanks to a stellar line led by front rowers senior Alec Mikkelsen, sophomore Beau Bequette, and sophomore Irvin Medina.
The Mustang defense was simply too solid. And even when Herriman was pinned down at their own 22, sophomore outside center Vuni Bloomfield made a huge run, breaking right through the defense to get the ball well on the other side of midfield. Bloomfield would catch a bit of grief from his coaches about not passing outside to an open man at the end of a run instead of running through tacklers, and although he lost possession he would heed his coaches' advice shortly after when he made a nice, floating pass to inserting fullback and cousin Vili Bloomfield, who would touch down in the corner to raucous applause from the sizable crowd. The tough conversion was missed, but a 17-6 cushion is tough to overcome against a great defense.
There was no quit in the Warriors, however, who went to a pick-and-go game with some success. Patient and solid in the ruck, they slowly worked their way down the field with some nice running from their powerful No. 8, and once momentum was stopped, they got help from the official, who would call a succession of penalties that essentially moved Snow Canyon from midfield to within five meters of the goal line.
Herriman held through several charges, but eventually a pounding Snow Canyon pack found enough space to squeeze through for an unconverted try, 17-11 with about 10 minutes left.
Snow Canyon came back with the same game plan, but a knock-on halted their attack, and Herriman’s forwards did well to keep the ball.
Snow Canyon had one final chance with a lineout throw, but Ruflin came through with one of his many steals, and Herriman was able to run out the clock for a hard fought victory over a very tough opponent.
Snow Canyon will play in the state quarterfinals next week before moving on to Nationals, while Herriman has earned a first round bye and will play in the semifinals May 25th, having not been invited to the national invitational.