The chances of the week 16 match between the Ohio Aviators and the Denver Stampede becoming a de facto final took a few steps forward this week. The other teams had been taken care of for the most part, with Sacramento and San Francisco already officially eliminated and San Diego’s championship hopes dependent on very unlikely collapses from both the Aviators and the Stampede. All that’s left for the top two sides is to determine how many points they’ll have heading into the final weekend of the season and what precise scenarios will give them a title when this all plays out.
Sacramento 31-41 Ohio
For Ohio, a bonus point win against the Express guaranteed at least a shot at the title in their final match of the season but anything less left the door open for the Stampede to clinch the title before their showdown. The match started pretty slowly, with Sacramento controlling the tempo as Ohio committed a number of penalties early. Both teams were able to force in tries through brute force in the first quarter of the match but the Aviators were only beginning to pick up steam. Riekert Hattingh broke the 7-7 stalemate soon after Ohio sped up their attack, and Spike Davis followed with a try soon after. Mirco Bergamasco hit a penalty for Sacramento shortly before halftime to make the score 19-10.
The Aviators clinched that necessary bonus point with a score from Alex Elkins, and Ohio continued to pile on with tries to build their lead up to 31 points. But the Express didn’t simply lie down. Sacramento attacked ferociously in the final quarter, with big breaks from Cody Jerabek and Shane Moore sparking the attack. Playing some of their loosest rugby of the season, the Express scored three converted tries to get within striking distance. But Ohio’s defense adjusted and shut down the Sacramento attack in the final few minutes to hang on for the 41-31 road victory.
Denver 59-23 San Diego
After Ohio’s win, the Stampede needed six points in the final three matches to ensure a chance to win the championship at the end of the month. They picked up five of those points in a clinical victory over the San Diego Breakers. Max de Achaval and Peter Dahl scored tries to give Denver an early 12 point lead. The Breakers responded with two penalties from Kalei Konrad, who replaced Kurt Morath early in the match due to injury. Scores from Hanco Germishuys and Zach Fenoglio sandwiched San Diego’s only try of the half and the Stampede held a convincing 26-11 halftime lead.
The second half was more of the same. Denver put up another 33 points on five tries, including second tries from Germishuys and Fenoglio, a second half brace from Mike Garrity, and one from Timana Tahu. The Stampede dominated just about every facet of the game, from the set pieces to attacking play that poked holes in San Diego’s defense for the entire eighty minutes. The Breakers simply looked out of sync at times, with a few notable players already missing at kickoff and Kurt Morath leaving shortly after. They will be looking to break a five match losing streak next week when they travel to San Francisco for their third match against the Rush.