Schuylkill River pulled off the upset, and the Youngbloodz nearly did. Utah and Belmont Shore, champs of the Pacific Coast and Southern California, respectively, were the odds-on favorites in the Cup Semifinals. They had the Eagles, and neither Youngbloodz nor Schuylkill River had any. Well, as it turns out, you don't need Eagles to win at the Club 7s championships.
The Warriors opened scoring when Ben Nicholls, who scored three times in Utah's quarterfinal win over Marist, dotted down. But Schuylkill River's top playmaker, and perhaps the tournament's top try scorer (stats to be compiled after the finals) Greg Ambrogi responded with a pair of tries, putting Utah on its heels.
Down 14-7, Utah got the ball into the hands of Maka Unufe, who has been fantastic for them, and as he was screaming up the sidelines, attempting to penetrate Schuylkill's defense, Ambrogi delivered a big-time tackle, forcing a knock. Ambrogi and Unufe were hurt on the play, knocking both of their team's go-to players out of the game.
Schuylkill won the ensuing scrum, while their best player was being tended to still on the pitch, and swung the ball from one sideline to the other for a third try. The conversion was missed, putting the Mid-Atlantic champs up 19-7 at halftime.
To open the second half, the Warriors went a man down when prop Chet Blasucci was binned for a shoulder charge. Shortly after Schuylkill toed through the penalty, Nicholls picked up and errant pass and sprinted for his second try of the game, pulling Utah within three at 19-12.
The Warriors had all the momentum, and Blasucci drew them closer when he crashed through for a try in the corner after returning from the bin. The difficult conversion was missed, and Utah trailed 19-17.
Schuylkill extended its lead immediately when Will Knipscher outran Utah down the touchline and scored. The conversion was missed.
Utah would get just one more possession after pushing Schuylkill into touch deep in Warrior territory. After multiple methodical phases orchestrated by Mike Palefau, the Eagle made a wraparound pass to a charging Nicholls who scored directly under the posts. The conversion attempt to force overtime was one Jason Pye has made hundreds of times before, about 10 meters from the tryline centered in the middle of the field. But this time, he shanked it right, and Schuylkill advanced to the title game 24-22 winners.
The second semifinal looked in the beginning like it was supposed to. Belmont controlled the action and put in the first couple of tries, one via Alex Ross and the other via Shalom Suniula, to take a 12-0 lead, which they'd carry into the break.
The Youngbloodz finally got on the board in the opening minute of the second half, when captain Nick Johnson carried multiple Belmont tacklers into the try zone, pulling the Minnesota team within seven at 12-5.
The score seemed to knock Belmont out of its comfort zone, and after back-to-back penalties, elusive Youngbloodz scrumhalf Nate Augspurger darted toward the tryline, drawing multiple defenders, and slipped a no-look pass to a charging Johnson. Ruck won inches from pay dirt, Garrett Bender plucked the ball and slammed it into the try zone. The conversion was good, drawing the Youngbloodz level with mighty Belmont.
Belmont sub Justin Boyd then made the play you'd expect of an Eagle at the club championships when he forced his speeding body into a would-be tackler, but kept the ball at arm's length, and slipped an offload to a charging Taylor Howden, who took in the game winner (final score: 17-12) with no time on the clock.
Belmont and Schuylkill River meet in the Cup final at 4:30pm local time. Schuylkill's Greg Ambrogi is expected to play.