By Tim Pickwell
With a back-line that he charitably described as “decimated,” San Diego Mustangs U19 head coach Matty Sandoval put Saturday’s May 11 Southern California Youth Rugby League final against No. 1 seed Santa Monica on the backs of his forwards.
And the big pack responded. Two hundred ninety-pound Prop Joey Kuperman took it over for the first Mustang score, six minutes into the match, while Grant McGahey added the final try with two minutes left, to lead the Carmel Valley-based Mustangs over the Dolphins, 36-7, in 80-plus degree heat in inland Orange County. In between, “we played Big Boy Rugby,” said Sandoval. The San Diego Forwards held the edge on scrums, rucks and line-outs. Kuperman even attempted an ill-advised pooch-kick and run late, while Aaron Mitchell, AJ Talman, and Jacob Neeley handled the ball well in the interior, while snuffing out Santa Monica advances.
Both clubs were undefeated entering the match, with the Mustangs ranked No. 5 in the nation by Rugby Magazine. But, the Mustangs (10-0), had not been able to field their starting back-line since a Week 5 contest against the San Diego Aztecs had put three starters out. For the final, inside Center Chase Pickwell returned for the first time since the Aztec match, but Devin Slubowski and Michael “The Vortex” Cahill were game-time scratches with the flu. High School All-American center Billy Maggs suited out, but did not play due to a lingering injury. Mac Entwistle and Alex Lindsay shifted out to the Wings for the Mustangs, while Bernardo Olivas moved to outside center. Both Entwistle and Lindsay scored for San Diego, while Pickwell was tested early and often, but lasted 70 minutes after not having played or practiced for a month.
Chris Sanchez scored for Santa Monica at the 15 minute mark to make the score, 14-5, when a scissors move confused the Mustangs defense. An Alex Walsh kick got the score to 14-7, before the Mustangs methodically chipped away. The teams traded yellow cards in the second half, but neither could move against their short-handed opponent.
The Mustangs flew to Elkhart, Indiana May 15 to participate in the Club Championship Bracket of the Boys High School National Invitational Tournament. They are seeded No. 6, with their first match against highly regarded Danville. The players, who hale from 10 different area high schools, have used a variety of fundraisers, drawings, raffles, and attracted corporate sponsors to raise approximately $26,000 of the $30,000 needed for the trip.