CATS RUN TO CUP FINAL IN FIRST HIT OUT
George O'Brien was a standout, emerging as one of the team's leading try scorers on the weekend. (Photo credits: Alex Ho)
Oct 25- Arizona continued their strong preseason play this Fall as their Sevens squad made the trip to Treasure Island for the West Coast Sevens in San Francisco.
The Wildcats opened their account against Nevada, with a strong Wolfpack defense and a series of unforced errors making life difficult in the early going. A 7-5 lead at halftime thanks to a George O'Brien try got the Wildcats some breathing room, which the speedster from North Carolina added to with his second try of the match late in game. A 14-5 win to start the day sent the Wildcats in to game two with an in-state opponent, Grand Canyon.
A young lineup put the Lopes to sword early, with Jacob Hall and Andreas Andersson emerging as key contributors in their first ever Sevens tournaments. But two George O'Brien tries to go along with a score from Hall were not enough as a 19-7 lead became 19-14 before GCU touched down as time expired to snag a win and hand the Wildcats nothing more than a bonus point. Controversy hung over the result as 19-19 was listed in broadcast while referees held 21-19.
Needing a rebound, Arizona took on San Diego State with a spot in the Cup rounds up for grabs. It was O'Brien again who got the action started, touching down in the first minute. Captain Maxime Cathala added to the scoring with a great effort down the blindside. The 12-0 halftime lead grew quickly in the second half with scores from Abe Turpen, and Antonio Gonzalez to seal a 26-0 victory and Pool B for the Wildcats.
"Day one was weird. Tie or a loss however you want to call it, struggles in stretches, and brilliance in others. But this is what you get in your first tournament. We'll look back at this and point to guys that really emerged and others that got valuable lessons about what it takes to succeed in Sevens at the highest level" said Director of Rugby Sean Duffy.
As pool champions, the Wildcats faced the runners up across the bracket and took on Utah to open the cup rounds. Starting slow, the Wildcats and Utes entered the break scoreless and committed to stringing some continuity together. It was in the second half that the weekend began to change, as Andersson and Wing Ashton Liddell each scored in a much more fluid passage of play to seal the 14-0 win and a spot in the cup semifinals.
Taking on University of San Diego, Arizona faced a squad with heaps of momentum and confidence after a strong first day. Finally putting it altogether, the Wildcats began to show the form that has many looking for them to take the next step as a program, with Cathala and O'Brien each scoring in the first half to give the Wildcats a 12-0 lead. Second half scores from Cathala, Gonzalez, and Norman sealed the 29-0 shutout and punched Arizona's ticket to the cup final.
Facing the 2021 PAC-12 champions, Arizona took the field against Cal with momentum but stumbled out of the gate to make things difficult for the young squad. A first minute red card for a tip tackle dropped the Wildcats to six men for the duration of the match, a tough ask against any opponent. The Wildcats would bounce back, with Antonio Gonzalez going on a long run to set up an O'Brien try and tie the game at 7 midway through the first half. Two late Cal tries, including a 7th minute score made it 21-7 but Arizona was not done just yet. A 60 meter Gonzalez try on a well timed line made it 21-14 and gave the Wildcats hope with just under five minutes left. But Cal would get the last shot, taking advantage of an Arizona penalty to make it 26-14 and put some distance between the sides ahead of a possible next meeting in PAC-12 championships in three weeks.
"A great step forward this weekend overall as we set a floor for what expectations are in attack, defense, restarts, etc for the year, and a number of guys took that individual next step in their development. Particularly pleased to see guys like George O'Brien get some recognition and attention, which makes it a little harder to handle our other weapons out there. We saw the first glimpse at some Freshmen too, and while one made a mistake in the cup final, they made a ton of plays on the weekend and made it clear that they are here to compete and help us win both now and in the future" said Duffy. The Wildcats finish the weekend outscoring opponents 116-59, reaching the cup final of the event in its first year back after a two year layoff due to the pandemic.
Arizona Sevens returns to action in the PAC-12 Championships November 12-13 at Stanford University with PAC-12 Network carrying both days.
For the Wildcats' full preseason schedule, click here.
Game 1 vs Nevada
Tries: O'Brien, Cathala
Conv: Cathala- 2/2
Game 2 vs Grand Canyon
Tries: O'Brien (2), Hall
Conv: Hall- 2/2, O'Brien- 1/1
Game 3 vs SDSU
Tries: O'Brien, Cathala, Turpen, Gonzalez
Cup QF vs Utah
Tries: Andersson, Liddell
Conv: Hall- 2/2
Cup SF vs San Diego
Tries: Cathala (2), O'Brien, Gonzalez, Norman
Cup Final vs Cal
Tries: O'Brien, Gonzalez
Conv: Cathala- 2/2
West Coast Sevens Roster
1- Andreas Andersson
5- Ted Champion
7- Jacob Hall
9- Troy Norman
10- George O'Brien
11- Tyler Sloan
12- Abe Turpen