A last-second penalty goal from flyhalf Adam Siddall produced an astounding victory for the USA 25-23 over Georgia Saturday in Tbilisi.
The game went down to the wire and was physical and contentious, and the USA had to overcome a huge disparity in penalty count, but somehow they pulled it out.
Perhaps as important, the Eagles scored three tries in the game.
The first half did not start auspiciously for the USA.
The Eagles showed they wanted to spin the ball wide and challenge the Lelos in the backs. But they also needed to hold onto the ball. A knock-on early produced a scrum, and Georgia's shove was massive, producing a penalty.
The penalty seemed innocuous enough - it was about 14 meters inside the Georgian half. But the Eagles soon realized what that meant. Fullback Merab Kvirikashvili teed the ball up and promptly smacked it over the posts.
Shocked, perhaps, by the realization that any penalty almost anywhere on the field could result in points for the other team, the USA spent the next several minutes defending.
Mismatches then produced a try for Georgia. Backs against props in the midfield got the Lelos going, and then backs against locks on the wing allowed Kvirikashvili to race in at the corner. The fullback then knocked over the touchline conversion, and Georgia led 10-0.
But after that the USA knuckled under. Some solid defense allowed them to turn the ball over in the tackle, and after a penalty set up a lineout, the Eagles were in business. A surge to the line from Samu Manoa was stopped, but the USA kept up the attack, and eventually a long pass on a line from Adam Siddall to Chris Wyles put the fullback in at the corner.
That made it 10-5. The USA gave three points right back with a penalty after the restart, but Georgia returned the favor, and Siddall hit the kick and it was 13-8.
Kvirikashvili would miss two more penalty attempts in the half, one well within his range and one from 55. But the key play came just a couple of minutes before the end of the half. A series of kicks back and forth ended when Wyles fielded the ball just inside his half. He looked up, saw a seam, and took it, busting the Georgia defense right up the middle.
Wyles couldn't go all the way and linked with Derek Asbun in support. A quick ruck and then the ball went quickly out to Todd Clever, who was hammered in his legs, but somehow passed to Blaine Scully, who raced in the corner and curved around to touch down under the posts. Siddall hit the conversion and suddenly the USA led 15-13.
That was a major boost to the Eagle confidence and they entered halftime, amazingly, in the lead.
In the second half, the Eagles continued to run into penalty trouble. Almost every scrum was ending in a whistle from referee Mike Fraser. But somehow their defense held, with Todd Clever, Andrew Suniula, and late-named starter Eric Fry playing big roles.
Eventually that defense forced a mistake from Georgia - a pass that went into touch, and that allowed the Eagles to attack. This try, at the 55th minute, was of a new breed, as the forwards did much of the work, and Petri was hugely active in getting the ball out. Finally, it was prop Nick Wallace who took a pass on the gallop, flattened his marker, dummied to Andrew Suniula, and rambled 38 meters for an astounding score. Siddall had no difficulty with the conversion and the USA led 22-13.
It could have been even more when the Eagles had a series of free kicks in the Georgia end, but they got too frantic with the ball and turned it over.
That turnover had big ramifications. The scrum turned into a penalty, and the penalty became a Georgia lineout inside the USA half. From there, a nifty short pass to center Merab Sharikadze. He linked with his support, and while Scully dragged his man down a meter short, Sharikadze was there to pick up and dive over next to the posts. Kvirikashvili hit the easy conversion, and now it was 22-20.
The Eagles continued to bash their heads against the wall trying to score one more time. A promising attacking move was ended when they got yet another penalty in the ruck, and more penalties followed in the scrum, too. One such penalty set up a penalty for Kvirikashvili, who easily put it over to put Georgia up 23-22.
With time almost up the USA took a lineout at midfield. But a knock-on later in the attack seemed to spell the end of the game. The clock said time was up, but referee Fraser had other ideas.
Georgia won the scrum, worked a few phases, and then kicked to touch. They leapt into each other's arms ... but no whistle. The ref called for a lineout, explaining that he had more time left on his watch.
The Eagles won that lineout, punched the ball up a few times, and got a penalty on the right-hand side, about 42 meters from the goal line. It wasn't a pretty angle, but it was the best anyone could do. Todd Clever pointed to the posts, Adam Siddall lined it up, and put it over. The whistle went for full time, and the USA celebrated a surprising win.
It was a game with plenty of heroics. Todd Clever was his forceful self, combining guts and determination with some athletic prowess. Scully and Wyles were excellent on attack, and Suniula, who received the Man of the Match award, was a force on both sides of the ball.
Mike Petri was hugely active and had his best game in some time, and Siddall tackled hard, worked the offense, and kicked brilliantly.
The forwards as a unit had a massive job in front of them. Star Samu Manoa took a less glamorous role of battling in tight, and did it well; the same can be said of hooker Phil Thiel.
But more than anything, it was a victory, in very hostile territory. They needed perhaps a little luck to get it, but had fallen afoul of some iffy calls throughout the game, so perhaps the confusion over the game clock was payback.
Tries: Wyles, Scully, Wallace
Convs: Siddall 2
Pens: Siddall 2
Tries: Kvirikashvili, Sharikadze
Convs: Kvirikashvili 2
Pens: Kvirikashvili 3
Notes: Shawn Pittman was a late scratch. Eric Fry came in to start and played his best game in a year. Ollie Kilifi of Seattle-OPSB earned his first cap when he came on as a sub.
|1. Nick Wallace
2. Phil Thiel
Shawn Pittman Eric Fry
4. Graham Harriman
5. Samu Manoa
6. Todd Clever(C)
7. Derek Asbun
8. Cameron Dolan
9. Mike Petri
10. Adam Siddal
11. Tim Maupin
12. Andrew Suniula
13. Folau Niua
14. Blaine Scully
15. Chris Wyles
16. Zach Fenoglio
17. Ollie Kilifi (@75 for Wallace)
Eric Fry Titi Lamositele
19. Inaki Basauri
20. John Quill (@65 for Asbun)
21. Shaun Davies
22. Seamus Kelly
23. Luke Hume (@57 for Maupin)
|1. David Khinchagishvili
2. Shalva Mamukashvili
3. David Kubriashvili
4. Konstantine Mikautadze
5. Levan Datunashvili
7. Mamuka Gorgodze (C)
8. Giorgi Chkhaidze
9. Giorgi Begadze
10. Lasha Khmaladze
11. Tedore Zibzibadze
12. Merab Sharikadze
13. David Kacharava
14. Tamaz Mchedlidze
15. Merab Kvirikashvili
16. Simon Maisuradze
17. Mikheil Nariashvili
18. Levan Chilachava
19. Giorgi Nemsadze
20. Giorgi Tkhilaishvili
21. Vazha Khutsishvili
22. Lasha Malaguradze
23. Beka Tsiklauri