by Glen Richardson
When the Glendale Raptors and San Francisco Golden Gate went toe to toe in the deciding clash of the inaugural Pacific Rugby Premiership season at Infinity Park May 17, it produced a match the likes of which even the best script writers couldn’t conjure up. Accompanying incredibly good rugby was a stack of subplots together with a controversial referee call that kept the huge crowd on the edge of their seats until the final whistle.
There have been some monumental rugby games here — the Collegiate All-Stars, two Churchill Cups, and the North American Four among others — but none that have created more excitement and drama highlighted by bruising hits and jaw dropping tries. There were five lead changes during the 80-minute contest, but despite an up-and-under try by Glendale Center Chad London in the waning minutes, the Raptors came up one point short, 39-38.
Making the game all the more remarkable is that the Raptors were ranked at the bottom of the Pacific League’s power rankings at the start of the season. Going into the playoff, however, the Raptors were ranked number one with an 11-1 record, two games ahead of San Francisco. In their previous match-ups during the season they were tied with a win apiece.
Seesaw Action Game
Despite San Francisco’s early domination, Glendale moved surreptitiously back into the game with two quick bang-bang scores due to Golden Gate penalties. Fullback Dustin Croy scored first compliments of convincing decoy runs from Centers Landon and Justin Pauga. Then Pauga scored again after bouncing off a Golden Gate player at the try line and the Raptors had erased SF’s lead. Just as San Francisco threatened to score again, flanker Spencer Scott poached the ball and passed off to wing Bret Willis who scampered down field to score. With the conversion good, Glendale had a 24-15 halftime lead.
A nifty scramble by Golden Gate had them within inches of the try line to open the second period. On the next play San Francisco scored but the conversion was missed leaving the Raptors up 24-20. A penalty on the Raptors followed by big SF runs plus an easy conversion put them up 27-24. Kicking the restart deep Golden Gate cleared its lines with a boot. Glendale’s Croy committed two defenders and passed to Preston Bryant who moved downfield and passed to London. Following broken tackles and a ruck, Scot took the ball untouched for anther Glendale score. Graham converted and the Raptors were back on top 31-27 with 30 minutes remaining. Golden Gate hit back within minutes with a quick try to get revenge and back into the game. The conversion was missed, but they had reclaimed the lead 32-31.
Just as quickly Glendale’s Croy dotted down in touch. Believing Glendale had gone ahead for good, players and fans went delirious with excitement. After watching two video reviews, however, the points were wiped off the scoreboard as referees ruled that while Croy did dot down, he was touched before he could do so. With five minutes to go Glendale was caught playing the ball in a ruck. SF kicked the penalty to the corner and took a lineout. With a short plunge and conversion they were up 39-31. Down eight points with less than five minutes to play, Mike Graham chipped a kick over the defense and reserve wing Max Statler gathered the ball and passed to London who raced in for a Glendale score. With a penalty following the kickoff, the Raptors kicked for a lineout inside SF’s 22. Glendale won the set piece but Graham opted to grubber down one point and San Francisco scooped up the ball and kicked it to touch to end the game.