St. Mary’s hosts Utah in the DI-A quarterfinals at 1pm PST in Moraga, Calif. Saturday. This will be the Utes’ second trip to Moraga this season, having lost 41-10 to the Gaels while on a preseason tour in January.
That game was more competitive than the score would indicate, and St. Mary’s captain Andrew Cook says the Gaels are well aware that they’ll be facing a different Utah team this time around.
“When we played them early in the year, they were pretty early in their season and were still trying to figure some stuff out,” he said, “but we’ve watched them in film and they’re definitely a much improved team and we’ve taken note of that.”
“It was a good wakeup call for us early in the season, and I think from that time moving forward we’ve been able to improve and work on the things that we needed to to become a better club altogether,” added Utah assistant coach Rob Kingsford.
“Overall execution wasn’t great. We were working through a couple of different lineups. It was our first game in that kind of lineup, and since that time we’ve been able to work through those things, guys know where they’re playing, guys are familiar with each other now. I think that dynamic’s the biggest deal.”
Since falling to St. Mary’s, the Utes have played two more matches against hallowed opponents -- BYU and Cal. They fell by just two points to the Golden Bears and lost 38-22 to the top-ranked Cougars after trailing by just one at halftime.
In both games, Utah had its chances and was a miscue here or a big play there from getting over the hump. Will the Utes omit that intercept try and make one more big play to upset St. Mary’s?
“That’s definitely the hope. You go throughout an entire season and you hope you can continue to grow and remain competitive,” said Kingsford.
“I don’t know that we’ve necessarily peaked yet. We’re hoping that tomorrow we get the opportunity to give our best game, our best effort. Hopefully we’re successful and get the chance to continue to take our game to the next level.”
Utah and St. Mary’s, it would seem, are similar teams. They both have front rows to be jealous of, and they both have dangerous backs that can score from anywhere on the field. Utah wing Tonata Lauti, meet St. Mary’s fullback Kingsley McGowan. You’re both really fast.
“We’re definitely really similar. From watching them and watching our game film, we can see that both teams are really good at turning turnover ball into points and they’re also good at turning what sometimes looks like nothing into a lot of something,” said Cook.
“They have some very athletic guys, they have good structure, and there’s definitely a lot of similarity between us and Utah. It’s going to be interesting.”
Both teams are big fans of the offload and freewheeling attack. That, though, can mean more turnovers, and should mean a very exciting game of running rugby.