MORAGA, Calif. – Playing at the newly-renovated Saint Mary’s Stadium, the Gaels soundly defeated the Utah Utes 81-15 after receiving solid resistance early in the match from the visitors.
Explosive outside center Kingsley McGowan got the scoring underway with a try five minutes into the match. Following Dylan Audsley’s successful conversion, Utah used a Gaels penalty to put three points on the board.
Saint Mary’s never had difficulty advancing the ball down the field, as Tommy Wallace and Audsley secured early tries, but Utah did a fine job countering the scores early in the match. Determined lines from the Utes backline and an effective pick-and-go game around the ruck kept the Gaels on the back foot, and earned Utah two tries of their own to make the score 21-15 in favor of the home team with 25 minutes left to play in the first half.
“Utah did a really good job of testing us in the midfield and at the fringe of the rucks,” applauded junior Holden Yungert.
However, the early makings of an 80-minute shootout quickly went the way of a route as Saint Mary’s went on to score 60 unanswered points after Utah was awarded their second try.
Full back Cooper Maloney exploited a minor seam in the Utah defense and sprinted to a 30-meter try, and Audsley quickly added another score off a sleek pass from fly half Mike McCarthy. Just when Utah thought it could regroup at halftime down 31-15, Saint Mary’s used several well-timed passes to send freshman number eight Vili Helu diving for the corner of the end line and pushed the Gaels’ lead to 38-15 at intermission.
“We were a bit tighter as a team as far as communicating to one another,” Yungert mentioned. “Other than that, I think we eliminated self-made errors. Against Golden Gate we threw interceptions, forward passes, and were knocking the ball on. We really cleaned that up against Utah.”
In the second half, McGowan ran wild for three more tries, while fellow AIG Men’s Collegiate All-Americans Dino Waldren and Maloney added tries, and freshman Nico Docolas rounded out the scoring frenzy with a converted try.
The 85-point effort isn’t surprising given the depth of talent that returned to coaches Tim O’Brien and Johnny Everett’s team. Still, replacing half backs is never easy and that is exactly what Saint Mary’s has had to do this year following the graduation of All-Americans Joey Reavey and Garrett Brewer.
“I was behind a lot of talent last year, but it allowed me to work with Joey and Garrett,” said Yungert, the team’s newly-appointed scrum half. “Working with them helped me a lot, but also gave me an understanding and appreciation of the role I’d be stepping into this season.”
McCarthy, who was a utility back off the Gaels bench last season, is settling in at number 10. The new half back tandem understands more pitch time is needed to build a perfect rapport, though they have seen steady development.
“Our continuity is improving, and that’s one of those relationships that needs time,” explained Yungert. “But we’ve come a long way, and this game against Utah helped.”
The Gaels’ impressively-busy schedule continues when Arizona State visits the Saint Mary’s campus for a Jan. 17 meeting. Last season, Saint Mary’s dispatched the Sun Devils rather easily in a 59-19 effort in the desert.