Two ARC 7s tournaments in the books and Oklahoma has won both in fine fashion. In each , the Sooners have proven able to fight through adversity to win. In Lubbock, Tech led 19-5 at halftime in the final and Oklahoma came back to win with no time left on the clock. In College Station, Oklahoma denied space and possession to Sam Houston, but they accomplished that feat a man short for 12 minutes and still emerged the victor!
Oklahoma started pool play solid with a 47-0 smash of Texas A&M’s second side. Then they took on a wily Sam Houston State team that went down 33-7. Sam’s sole try in that match came from a quick presence of mind shown by flyhalf Brent Drost. Oklahoma kicked a restart in-goal and a SHSU player touched it down. Drost called for the ball, sprinted to mid-field, took the quick-tap, broke one OU tackle and sprinted the remaining 50 meters for a try center. The try lifted SHSU’s spirits, but they couldn’t stop a Sooner attack system that seemed to come from every angle.
SHSU also pasted A&M’s second side 31-0. The Bearkats proved speedy through-out the day, but it was their physicality at the breakdown that set them apart. The Sam front-row of Trace Martin, Brandon Waltmon, and Cameron Parker produced plenty of clean ball for scrumhalf Christopher Slater to work to Drost, center Bobby Martin, and goose-stepping wing Dustin Hicks. This was enough to pit them against Texas Tech in the semi-finals.
Texas A&M showed much better at home than they did in Lubbock, but still ended up in 3rd place. The Aggies started the day with a sluggish offense against Baylor. Their defense kept the Bears out of in-goal, though, and Texas A&M posted a 17-0 win. The Aggies’ second pool match against a very solid Texas Tech team proved a back-and-forth toughie. So tough, that when Greg Varnell’s whistle signaled full-time, the match was tied at 19-all. Tech advanced to the semi-finals as Varsity Pool B #1 on point differential, though
Texas Tech played some great rugby in pool play. Along with drawing Texas A&M, the Red Raiders proved ready to play early with a 38-12 win over a young and feisty Baylor side. Tech arrived in College Station well-armed with the speed of Jared Baird and Zac McKinney, solid distribution from Patrick Evenson, and their creators, Wes Mitchell & Kyle Kulka. However, flyhalf Mitchell suffered a concussion in the A&M match. This would not bode well for them through the rest of the tournament.
Each semi-final game became a close affair with the ever-exploitative Sam Houston taking advantage of Tech’s momentary lack of rudder (Mitchell) and the Aggie defense holding the Sooners to a bang instead of a boom. Without Wes Mitchell, Texas Tech came out flat and Sam Houston punched into the void with enough fervor to top them 12-5. The Bearkats would move on to the Final. Oklahoma’s semi-final against A&M was not sure thing until the final minutes. The Aggies’ defense played up against the Sooners this weekend and held them to much less points than the Sooners enjoyed at their last meeting. Oklahoma’s Captain, Michael al-Jiboori, pulled his team together to dot the necessary points to advance, though. The Sooners secured a spot in the tournament final with a 17-5 win over the hosts.
The 3rd/4th place match pitted Tech against A&M for a rematch. Both teams knew what was at stake and both were dissatisfied with the result of their pool match. It was a battle from the get-go. Both teams notched well-earned tries in the first half, but none of them were converted. At halftime the score stood 10-5 in Tech’s favor. Soon after halftime, an angry whistle sounded after a particularly rough and dangerous collision. As Aggie Prop Philip Hanson nursed a busted noggin near the touch line, he was shown a red card for his efforts. Tech knew they had to take advantage of the situation, but somehow their discipline dissolved as first Prop Christian Kneble, then Hooker Jared Baird were shown yellow cards for cynical and repeated offenses, respectively. Both yellows were given deep in Red Raider territory. With personnel numbers in their favor, Texas A&M struck with a converted try to pull ahead 12-10. Once Kneble & Baird re-entered play, Tech surged anew. But the Aggie defense held firm and Tech’s ball handling showed too much fatigue. Texas A&M claimed a desperate third place for the second tournament in a row. The match ended at 12-10.
Oklahoma entered the final ready to go. Sam Houston was ripping and roaring, too. The Sooners knew from experience that the key to winning a 10-minute half final is to score early and often. They did just that with al-Jiboori snatching a hat-trick within the first five minutes. Oklahoma was playing to their strengths. Sam Houston was fighting for any semblance of possession. This led to a dust-up that resulted in an Oklahoma try being denied due to an off-the-ball “tip-tackle” by Patrik Jones. With only a two minutes left in the first half, Referee Wendy Young went to her pocket and presented Jones with a red card after consulting with AR Greg Varnell. Sam exploited the momentary lack of adjustment by Oklahoma and answered back with a string of possessions that resulted in a try by Bobby Martin. As the halftime whistle blew, the Sooners held a tentative lead at 15-7.
Whatever Coach Jason Horowitz and Captain al-Jiboori said to the Sooners during the break, got through. Oklahoma only had to hold out for the first four minutes of the second half to secure the championship. But they were not content to do just that. Sooner Scrumhalf Isaac Koh took the ball deep into Bearkat territory on the restart. Quick-thinking, a good read of the defensive holes and a broken tackle allowed al-Jiboori to open the second half scoring putting Oklahoma at 20-7. Sam Houston’s dissolute discipline at the breakdown after the following kickoff allowed Oklahoma’s Toby Harden to sneak in-goal and dot between the posts. Jake Turner would add the extras to widen the gap to 27-7. That lapse in discipline would further hinder Sam’s efforts a few minutes later. The Bearkats were dinged for leaving their feet at a breakdown 10 meters from their goal line. al-Jiboori quick-tapped and strode over for his fifth try of the match and a comfortable 32-7 lead at the crucial 14 minute mark in the final game. Sam Houston would answer back once more with an 80 meter stepping and tackle-breaking jaunt from wing Dustin Hicks. Drost would add the extras to bring the score to 32-14, but that would be the last of their scoring on the day. Oklahoma continued to pressure Sam Houston deep in the Bearkats’ territory trying to get Sam to commit an error. Sam left their feet during a goal-line stand and Oklahoma’s Argentinian Prop, Facunda Gatica, dove and stretched over to dot down for the final try. Oklahoma would win, despite playing with six players for 12 minutes. The 37-14 final score was indicative that Oklahoma had widened the gap between themselves and the rest of the conference.
Oklahoma hosts the final stop of the 2013 ARC 7s Series. Details on that stop are still being worked out, but one thing is for sure, the ARC 7s Series points leader after that tournament will be making a trip to Greensboro, NC for the 2013 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship tournament.
At the moment, Oklahoma leads the series with 60 points. Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Sam Houston are tied in points at 40, but will be seeded in Norman based on their finish in College Station. Baylor rounds out the Series with 20 points. It will be a very difficult proposition to prevent Oklahoma from making an appearance in Greensboro.
Picture courtesy of PlanoJimBob.