|Colorado's Luke Lahman. John Eilts photo courtesy of USA Rugby|
|Miami's Luke Markovich. John Eilts photo courtesy of USA Rugby|
|A&M's Brian Guillen on the tackle. John Eilts photo courtesy of USA Rugby|
I touted Pool F as the tournament’s toughest, and it very well may have been. It took until the conversion of day one’s final try to decide F’s winner.
The pool’s opening match, between Texas A&M and Colorado, looked like an important one since the schedule was drawn up. Colorado jumped out to an early lead off of a Ben Shaffer try, and it looked like the Buffs might extend their lead when A&M’s Luke Carter was sin binned for a dangerous tackle.
But Brian Guillen ran in the leveling score while the Aggies were a man down, and Carter punched in the game winner after returning from his two-minute timeout.
In the other round-one game of the pool, Miami overcame an early Virginia try with 22 unanswered points en route to a 22-7 victory. In their next game, the Reds jumped out to a commanding 19-0 lead over the host Aggies and held on, despite a late surge, for the 19-12 win, giving Miami a decided lead with one game to go.
Colorado’s prime playmakers – Luke Lahman and Chris Martin – combined for 15 points on three tries in the Buffs’ defeat of Virginia in the other round-two match.
The final round of play for Pool F saw Miami jump out to a 12-0 lead. Lahman, who had been the main cog in Colorado’s attack all day, put the Buffs on the board with an unconverted try in the game’s sixth minute, but Miami’s Derek Patrick responded in the final minute of the second half to give the Reds a 17-5 lead at intermission.
Miami had the better first half, and with just seven minutes separating them from a Cup Quarterfinal, appeared set to win its pool. But Colorado refused to give in, pouring in back-to-back tries to draw level with the Reds at 24.
Miami’s Reed Fenton then appeared to put the Reds back on top with around two minutes to play when he crossed the try line and rolled over the ball as he was tackled. However, the referee determined Reed hadn’t grounded the ball and deemed him held up. After the game, Reed said he grounded the ball, while the assistant referee maintained he did not.
In the 14th minute, Lahman scored his fourth try of the day to cap off a 19-point Colorado run and steal the victory.
“In 7s and with this team, we know we’re never out of it,” Lahman said.
"Sometimes we don’t finish strong," added Miami's Luke Markovich. "Some games we play, we’re ahead, and we just play to win the game with the points that we have. We don’t try to put more points on, so we just go into defense mode and try to contain them."
Even after the win, Colorado needed help to advance to the Cup Quarterfinal, as the Reds were clinging to a one-point advantage in point differential.
If Texas A&M won its final game, against 0-2 Virginia, by 18 or more points, they’d win the pool. Miami would still claim the pool if the Aggies won by 17 or less. In order for CU to win the pool, they needed Virginia to tie or beat Texas A&M.
The host Aggies came out of the gates quickly with 12-straight points on Guillen and Connor Mills tries. But Virginia answered back with Robert Hemstreet and Evan Burch scores. A&M and Virginia were both one-for-two on conversions.
A&M’s Chris Frazier appeared to put the Cavaliers away in the 12th minute with a converted try, but winless Virginia was still playing for pride, and an Andrew Vivirito try about 15 meters in from touch in the game’s final minute forced an all-important, pressure-packed conversion attempt. Virginia’s Julian Henderson nailed the difficult kick, ending the match in a tie and effectively sending Colorado through to the Cup Quarterfinals.
“I have a friend in Colorado, so I think that’s OK with me,” Henderson said.
The Buffs won their bid to Nationals by claiming the Pacific 7s title earlier this fall. In doing so, they overcame a day one loss to go undefeated on day two, like they’ll have to do to become National Champions.
“It definitely is the exact way we went through the Pacific Coast tournament. We lost the first game, came out flat, and then as the tournament has built, so have we,” said Lahman. “We’ve gotten better throughout the tournament. Day two was kind of where we shined for the Pacific Coast tournament, so we’re hoping we can do that again.”
For Miami, who trailed for a grand total of less than two minutes all day, not reaching the Cup Quarters will be a tough pill to swallow.
"It stings a little more when we knew we could have been ahead," Markovich said, referring to Miami's held-up try.