The Kansas City Blues won their third-straight Midwest match Saturday, beating the Chicago Lions 27-24 at Swope Park in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City got on the board first with a pair of penalties in the opening 10 minutes, but the Lions came back with a brace of tries in the second 10 minutes, one converted, to claim a 12-6 lead.
Kansas City regained the lead just before halftime when they went wide off a short-range penalty and fullback Marty Cummings found enough space to squirt into the try zone. Converted, the score put the blues up 13-12.
The Blues struggled with discipline all evening, playing more than a half hour with a man in the bin. Openside flanker Lloyd Saunders received two yellow cards, amounting to a red. He’s spent more than his share of time in the bin this season.
“[He’s] been yellow carded for almost the last three games,” said Blues coach Aseri Batiratu. “We are always trying to get him more water so he can cool down. Before every game I have to talk to him. He’s trying so hard, but it’s the ref's call.”
The Blues defense did well to not concede more points when they were at a disadvantage, and credit should go to their pack. The Blues managed to turn the Lions over, or at least slow them down, at the breakdown on a number of occasions.
“There’s a lot of changes in the backline,” said Batiratu, whose starting flyhalf, Kelly Mercer, took in the game on crutches. “But in our pack, it’s our third week we’ve had the same pack going in. I really like what I’m seeing in the forwards, and the past two weeks our defense has really helped us out.”
Hooker Nathan Foster opened scoring with a try in the second half. Converted, it extended the Blues’ lead to 20-12. Chicago got five of those points back immediately, when Matt Wagner ran in from short distance. The conversion was missed, leaving the Lions down 20-17.
The Blues regained a two-score lead when center Conner Smith intercepted a Lions pass and setup a Kenny Scott try. Converted, it put the Blues up 27-17.
The Lions kept knocking on the door and saw a couple of forays deep into Kansas City’s end go unrewarded. One possession ended with a missed shot at goal, and two more with turnovers. Smith, Kansas City’s captain, was a pest all day, constantly rushing up and pressuring the Lions midfield. His effort helped keep the Lions out of the try zone late in the game.
“He’s a special guy in the backline. He’s a quiet captain, but he’s talking when he’s on the field. When you watch him on defense, he reads the other team really good,” said Batiratu of Smith.
“It takes years to get that kind of experience. He’s really good at that, even for his size. He’s a tiny guy, and he’s matching up against some big boys. Today, I’m really proud of his offense and how he stepped up on defense, and I think the boys fed off that.”
The Lions kept the drama high when they did finally cut the lead to one score late. An up-and-under kick found its way past the Blues’ defensive line and into Wagner’s hands for a try. Wagner converted it himself, and the Lions took possession on the ensuing kickoff with about 90 seconds to play.
The Lions then drove deep into the Blues’ end with a big run from flyhalf Dave Koehneman. The Blues were pinged for a penalty, and the Lions would have likely kicked it to touch and gone for a lineout if there were enough time, but instead they were forced to run it. They kept moving closer the try line, and Kansas City was again penalized, but the Lions couldn’t cross over. The Blues' desperate defense produced a turnover on their defending five-meter line and a knock-on ended the game.
The result moves the Blues to 3-2 and drops the Lions to 1-4-1. Up next for Kansas City is a home game against the Cincinnati Wolfhounds, and up next for the Lions is a home match with Columbus.