Blackjacks vs. Belmont Shore (Men's Division 1), at Las Vegas. March 22, 2014.
---By Robby Castillo (Blackjacks "Back")
This past weekend’s fixture found the Las Vegas Blackjacks hosting the visiting Belmont Shore. What proved to be an exciting match featured momentum shifts and lead changes. It started rather lethargically for the Blackjacks who found themselves trailing at half time by a score that defied what bystanders eventually had witnessed as a hard fought match between two balanced sides. Missed opportunities and inexperienced decisions in the first half cost the Blackjacks the sure points that would have otherwise allowed for triumph.
Belmont drew first blood when a ball that would otherwise have gone out of goal to the dead ball area was touched by a blackjack player. The 5 meter scrum quickly led to a converted penalty. Shortly thereafter, another converted penalty, and it was 0-6 Belmont. The Blackjacks showed signs of life when a well-seasoned Vaha Esikia broke the gain line in a 30m gallop but support lacked and his pass from 5m out found touch. Belmont responded by gaining possession of the lineout and later a score when two Blackjacks players simultaneously delivered blows from opposite sides of a Belmont ball carrier, either one of which on its own would have been sufficient for a tackle. But as it was, the offsetting forces allowed the Belmont player to remain on his feet and slither in for the games first try. The conversion was good, 0-13 Belmont. A deep kick and heavy pressure forced a Blackjacks defender to kick the ball through the dead ball line and the 5 meter scrum led to another Belmont try, conversion failed 0-18.
Later in the first half, after stealing a Belmont lineout, the Blackjacks were able to get on the scoreboard when Left winger “Q” was able to elude Belmont defenders and then off-load to Vaha, who scored easily. Noor Jehanga added the conversion and it was 7-13 in favor of the bad guys. The Blackjacks missed another chance for a score shortly afterwards, when Q’s 50m run ended in a pass that seemed to be of the un-selfish, charitable variety, but it was ultimately knocked on. Belmont scored again and the score was 7-25 at the half, however the game was much closer than the score suggested.
The Blackjacks’ momentum and thus control for most of the second half was sparked by #22’s hard run to the 22m line. A hands call found width to Q for an apparent score but unfortunately, the touch down was not apparent to the ref and his plea fell on deaf ears. The Blackjacks were able to regain possession and threatened with a series of pick and drives on the northwest end of the field near the goal line. Belmont’s defense held stiff, but the Blackjacks got the ball to the winger on the far side who touched it down in the northeast corner. The conversion failed, 12-25, Belmont. Not long after, Steve Allen was able to elude 3 defenders on route to a terrific 50 meter try, where he touched the ball down at the center of the posts. Vaha converted, 19-25. Add a rare fashioned missed penalty kick from the Belmont fly half and the Blackjacks were in clear control of momentum and high morale, with 25 min to play. Steve Allen again found space when he aggressively fended off one Belmont player, then proceeded to outrun the rest. Steve off-loaded to Pati, who scored in the left corner. Conversion failed 24-25.
A Belmont free-kick found touch and a subsequent penalty allowed for #3 Roy Evans to find touch as the sidelines scratched their heads. Belmont stole the lineout and got the ball out wide but Steve Allen was able to drive the offender into touch. The Blackjacks momentum was slightly stalled when a Calvin Randleman hit on a Belmont offender left the poor soul writhing in pain and the ref called for injury time.
Momentum was regained when winger “Q” hit the gas and danced past 5 defenders on route to a long score between the posts. Belmont players sprinkled the field in the aftermath and looked like defeated foes. But in an apparent omen, the ensuing conversion kick hit the right upright and the posts came crashing down. Nevertheless, the Blackjacks had their first lead at 29-25 with 15 min to play.
From there it seemed that the Blackjacks were in control of both game and momentum, but soon afterwards a penalty came when a Blackjacks tackle (helmet to helmet?) forced a Belmont player to be carried off the field. Another injury to a Belmont player meant another delay and these delays worked to Belmont’s advantage as it served to quell much of the Blackjacks momentum. With minutes to go, they regained the lead with a long break and good ball distribution which saw the ball go through the hands of 4 different players. The score and conversion put Belmont on top 29-35 with one minute to play. The ensuing kickoff fell into the hands of Belmont, and after some advance to the Blackjacks 22 meter line, a penalty gave the Blackjacks one final opportunity. Strangely, the Blackjacks seemed to slow the game down, wasting precious moments in a time of urgency. Nothing came of the possession and Belmont added another try in the waning seconds, as they managed to hold off a fierce 2nd half surge from the Blackjacks.
Final: 29-37, Belmont. Yet, spectators had the opportunity to see some exciting rugby and lead changes, and highlights include some inspiring runs by the Blackjacks backfield.
This coming Saturday, the Blackjacks host the San Diego Aztecs in the 2nd of a 3 week home-stand. Social to follow at McMullen’s Irish pub. All are welcome. See you all there.