Matt Hawkins has scratches all down his face, and the battered USA captain perhaps is the face of the team that is scratched, battered, and, ultimately disappointed in itself.
A couple of mistakes and a poor start against Fiji meant the Eagles were playing in the Plate Semifinal Sunday, and a couple of mistakes and a poor start meant they were on the losing end of a 24-19 overtime decision against Canada.
The USA was unlucky – they gave up a penalty when Zack Test knocked on a kickoff and Blaine Scully, thinking it had been tapped back by a Canadian, grabbed it.
“That’s a tough one because you really don’t know who has touched it,” said Scully. “Sometimes they call it, sometimes they don’t. But you have to go for the ball.”
The USA was sloppy – a poor missed tackle helped Canada along to one try.
The USA was rash. After closing the gap to 19-12 thanks to a wonderful run from Zack Test, Luke Hume, not the normal USA kicker, decided he would kick the easy conversion in front of the posts. He missed, and had he kicked it, the Eagles would have won.
The USA was resilient. They came back from 14-0 and 19-7 deficits to tie the game.
The USA was brilliant. Test’s try was lovely, and their defense, when they weren’t making mistakes on offense, was very strong.
But they couldn’t put it all together enough to beat the Canadians, and they keep getting those scars.
“It’s our problem,” said Hawkins. “Last weekend and this weekend we brought all the heart in the world, but we’ve got to play smarter. When we have the ball and we’re making decisions on offense, and when we’re off the ball and in support, we’ve got to be smarter. We can only look at ourselves and blame ourselves for that.”
Playing in front of a home crowd they so desperately want to please, the Eagles looked frantic. Even veterans like Hawkins did.
“It’s harnessing that franticness that is what we need to do,” said Hawkins. “We just have to be smarter.”
One smart play was by Hawkins. With time up the USA barely escaped a Canadian attack. Hawkins ended up with the ball, basically alone, in his own 22. He booted the ball into touch to go to OT.
At that point we’re deep in our own 22 and I figured we can take a few minutes to regroup and play overtime and give ourselves a chance to win.
In overtime, the USA had the chance to win. Hawkins had the ball in the middle of the field, with options right and left. He sent a long pass to Zack Test on the right that bounced. Test slipped trying to get it, and the ball went into touch. Sure Canada’s throw-in to the lineout was woefully not straight, but there was no call and Canada ultimately scored and won.
“I think at that point we should have got the ball wide earlier but before we should have taken that kickoff,” said Hawkins. The USA received, but knocked the kick forward into Canadian hands.
That’s the issue with the USA. For some reason they give Canada the last laugh in close games. At the same time, the team is getting a little bit better. Going 1-4 isn’t ideal, but three of those losses were razor-thin. One goofy restart against Fiji goes their way and they are in the semis.
“We’re not satisfied; we’re not happy,” said Hawkins. “We wanted more and we deserve more and we’ve got to get it. We wanted to beat Fiji and we wanted to be playing in a Cup Semifinal and a Cup Final. So we end on this note, which is not a great one, but we’ve got to get back to work.”
And maybe heal those scars.