It was like two heavyweight fighters out there ju st trading punches. It was down to the last one standing, and it happened to be us. —Snow Canyon coach Michael Puriri
SALT LAKE CITY — East's rugby team made a remarkable run to the Division I championship, but Snow Canyon held on in a tough, physical game to win the state title 34-29 at the Ute Soccer Field on Saturday.
"It was like a prize fight," said Snow Canyon coach Michael Puriri. "It was like two heavyweight fighters out there just trading punches. It was down to the last one standing, and it happened to be us."
"With their size and strength, we knew it was going to be a big tackling game," said Snow Canyon captain Connor Parry. "We knew that tackles would be key."
Snow Canyon took a commanding lead as Richard Anderson, Sam Silvers and Parry each scored tries with two conversions from Adam Howard in the last seven minutes of the first half to put them up 26-7 at the half. Parry also scored the first try of the game.
"We came in strong," Parry said. "We proved ourselves in the first half."
But East didn't waste time in coming back in the second half. Jesse Afuvai scored a try within the first two minutes of the half. The Leopards held Snow Canyon to just a penalty kick while closing the gap to 29-22 with 11:27 remaining with tries from Tua Laupata and Joe Tukuafu.
"We lost the first half," said East's Osaiasi Tuifua. "But we came out hard in the second half."
"These guys have fought like crazy all year long," East head coach Robert Kingsford said. "Our playoff run has been one thing after another after another. These guys have all the heart in the world."
"We thought we were going to pick it up again, and our boys kinda had a little lull there," coach Puriri said. "East came out with their power. That's the way they play rugby, just smash tackle rugby. Our boys had a bit of a tough time stopping them."
"The second half, we were on our heels the whole time," Parry said. "They came out strong. They took it to us in the second half."
However, Richmond Anderson scored a try with just 2:09 to go in the game for Snow Canyon to place the game just out of reach. East's Sione Mafua scored a try and a conversion with 0:00 on the clock, and Snow Canyon came away with the victory.
There was a crowd of about 2,000 fans on hand supporting both teams. While East High School fans are fairly close, Snow Canyon supporters had to drive 4½ hours to support their team.
"We have the best fans in the world," said Puriri. "The fans love our boys. You saw the support. They're the greatest fans in the world. We're grateful."
Despite coming just short, East earned some major respect after reaching the Division I title game in just the second year of the program's existence.
"The journey started in January," Afuvai said. "We were just determined to get somewhere and make East known. We just played hard. It started off with a slow start, but soon were starting to build up and we're here."
"I want to congratulate East," Puriri said. "Awesome team. The future is bright for rugby for everybody. You look at the games that were played today, awesome games of rugby."
Overall, rugby fans couldn't have asked for a better championship game. It was filled with passion, hard hits, great speed and terrific sportsmanship.
Girls division: Orem 36, Vipers 32
Katelina Kaaihue-Afalava scored two tries for Orem as the Stallions edged the Vipers for a 36-32 victory. The Vipers led at the half 20-12 after tries from Hedius Karlson, Apaau Mailau and Lateesha Richards, but Orem started the second half on fire with three unanswered tries from Kaaihue-Afalava, Charity Tenney and Lewanda Aspinall with two conversions from Eternity Tenney to go up 31-20. The Vipers struck back and narrowed the lead, but Orem came away victorious.
Boys Division II: Kau Toa 29, South County 25
This game was the most emotional of the day as Kau Toa downed South County in a close one. One South County player had to be physically restrained at the end of the game. Austin Ricks scored two tries in the second half for Kau Toa, but the Crusaders' four unanswered tries in the first half proved to be too large of a deficit.
Boys 9th-10th Grade Division: United 28, Wasatch 26
Kelson Pupunu had a try and three conversions for Wasatch. His try and conversion put Wasatch up 26-21 with just 4:50 to go in the game. However, United battled back with a try from Tyler Everett with just 1:10 left to tie the game. Bo Johnson kicked the winning conversion with just 45 seconds left to put United up for good.
Middle School Division: Genesis 22, Bingham 17
Brook Vaitohi scored four tries for Genesis, including the final two in the last 8:50 of the game to put his team up over Bingham for the victory.
Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.