In a heartbreaking loss, the San Diego Legion was stunned 26-23 late in the Major League Rugby title game Sunday at Torero Stadium.
The defending champion Seattle Seawolves made a dramatic comeback after San Diego’s Joe Pietersen kicked a 3-pointer to pace the multinational Legion to a 23-19 lead after trailing 14-6 at halftime.
“We knew it would come down to the 80th (and final) minute,” said first-year Seattle coach Richie Walker, who coached women’s national teams at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center.
Up to that point, it appeared the Legion had secured the MLR Shield, the league championship trophy, on their home turf at the University of San Diego’s stadium.
After trailing at the half, the Legion inched their way back, finally taking the lead 20-14, only for the SeaWolves to climb back close at 20-19.
The flurry of action continued as the Legion added a cushion, extending their lead to 23-19 with two minutes to play.
A Legion penalty (a high tackle around the neck against Seattle’s Brock Staller) led to the scrum, after the 80th minute, that produced the final score.
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Seawolves forward Brad Tucker, who scored the game-winner, said “it was the type of thing you dream of as a kid.” He also gave credit to the Legion for giving his team such a challenge.
“They fought tooth and nail,” Tucker said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better game.”
Legion fans wearing red were hoping to see San Diego’s first professional sports championship in 56 years.
That’s when the Chargers, at that time part of the American Football League, won the 1963 championship over the Boston Patriots.
The San Diego Padres have lost in the World Series twice, in 1984 and 1998, and the Chargers in the Super Bowl once, in 1994.
The Legion beat Rugby United New York 24-22 on June 9 to qualify for the championship game, scoring on the last play of the game to win. The Seawolves beat the Toronto Arrows 30-17 in the semi-finals to advance to the championship.
The Legion’s record going into the championship was 12-3-1, while Seattle was 11-4-1. The Legion beat the Seawolves in two earlier matches this season.
Coming into Sunday’s championship match, the 528 points that the Seawolves have scored in 2019 are the most in the MLR while the Legion’s 481 points are the third-most.
The Legion’s Lou Stanfill carried the ball 13 times this season for 28 meters and a try in addition to making 17 tackles in the Legion’s two wins over the Seawolves this season.
Seattle’s Tucker headed into Sunday’s match with six tries, a league-leading 258 tackles and 181 ball carries. Staller this season lead the MLR in scoring with 217 points on six tries and a goal percentage of 79 percent.
Major League Rugby was established in 2018. Nine teams compete in the league, but three more are set to be added for the 2020 season.
— Ken Stone and staff reports