The stage was set for a beautiful day of rugby down in Southern California. On the line were the rights to an outright second-place finish between the Kern Tuskers and Ventura Outlaws. The end result was a 19-12 victory for Ventura.
In what looked to be a day of summer-like weather, there was a beautiful set-up. Pre-game had the playing of the national anthem and a great presentation of the colors before both teams took to the pitch focused and eager for a higher playoff spot.
From that start, things were shaping for it to be a defensive battle. Both teams were a bit slow out of the starting blocks just trying to get a feel for each other with strong forward play and great pressure defense. Both teams had chances to crack the scoreboard early with penalty kicks, but neither could find a way to get them through the uprights.
The first points of the game were scored when Ventura got an opportunity off a Kern mistake deep in their own territory. Ventura took advantage of a counter attack by Marcus Mulick who intercepted a pass and scampered nearly 80 meters for the first score of the game. Ventura would score once again through the strong running of Hector de Alba in the backline to make it 12-0 at the half.
“We knew it was far from over,” Kern coach Wicus Pitsma said. “We had confidence in ourselves and in our game plan and nobody was holding their heads at the half.”
In the second half, it was as if someone had lit a fire beneath the Kern Tuskers who came out on an all out attack. Forwards were running with even more of a purpose and under control to present phases for possession. The backline would be the ones to crack the scoreboard for Kern as Abel Ruesga would take a quick tap off penalty from ten meters out. Thomas Vincent would add the kick for 12-7 for a brand new game.
The Outlaws would answer right back with a spirited run of their own with a run by dangerous fullback Jeff Dulls. Kern would once again find themselves in a 19-7 hole and hopes of that higher seed slowly fading. However, they would not go quietly.
With fresh legs in, Kern would show one of their best performances under the pressure of dwindling minutes. Jeremy Ramirez would get the Tuskers back on the scoreboard with a tenacious run out wide to get his team to within seven points at 19-12 with around five minutes to play.
However, faulty lineout throws and a late hands-in-the ruck penalty would seal the victory for Ventura and possibly setting up a playoff rematch. The loss gives Kern a solid third place spot over North County Gurkhas and the playoffs still in reach.
“We left nothing on the field and it’s something we can take into next week,” coaches Wicus Pitsma and Art Gonzales said. “The guys stayed positive during and after the match and we look forward to our match next weekend for a possible playoff spot.”
The Kern Tuskers will take on Pasadena next weekend and the Ventura Outlaws will clash with Huntington Beach at home.