Tuesday, May 19, 2009 | 2:42 p.m.
The Las Vegas Blackjacks returned home from the quarterfinals of the USA Rugby National Club Championship Tournament on Monday night with a spot in the final four, thanks to a stunning last-minute comeback victory.
“You had to be there to believe it,” said Blackjacks team captain Tom Carter. “It was like winning the World Cup. We haven’t won anything yet, but it was a great comeback which will be remembered within our club for many years.”
The Glendale Raptors were fresh off a big tournament victory the day before and carried that momentum into Sunday’s quarterfinal matchup. They threatened to take the Blackjacks out of the game early, with 22 points in the game’s opening minutes.
“In the first half we just didn’t show up,” Blackjacks coach Jason Kelly said. “We didn’t form very well, our defense was poor and we just looked flat.”
Heavy rains the day before had turned the fields at Austin, Texas, into a mud hole, making the Blackjacks’ game plan difficult to execute.
“It wasn’t bad weather but the ground was still terrible,” Carter said. “It was just hard to get used to.”
However, the Blackjacks managed to gather some composure when Seta Tuilevuka capped off a team effort with a crucial score before halftime, cutting their deficit to 22-5.
“That sent us into the halftime talk with a bit of spirit,” Carter said. “If they can score 22 in one half, we can do the same if not more.”
Blackjack coach also Jason Kelly sensed an upset.
“As soon as we turned around in the last 10 minutes of the first half I knew we would be fine,” Kelly said. “When we scored the first points after the half, the game was on.”
Las Vegas dominated in the second half, pinning the Raptors in their own half for the rest of the game. As the momentum shifted in the Blackjacks’ favor, so did the crowd.
“People were shocked but they were cheering us on once they understood the significance of the comeback,” Carter said.
The Blackjacks closed the gap to 22-20, but they didn't take their first lead of the game until the 80th and final minute.
“There was no time left whatsoever, we were camped down in their half for about 20 minutes and we were trying to get that final score,” Carter said. “Our scrum-half threw the ball [toward the sideline] and I caught it and ran it in.”
The final score was 27-22.
The loss is particularly frustrating for the Raptors as their homefield in Glendale, Colo., is the site of this year’s finals.
Ironically, the Blackjacks will be going there on May 30, to face Pearl City Rugby Club in the semi-finals. The winner goes on to the championship game.