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Monday March 19, 2001

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UA ruggers lose game, playoff hopes to Long Beach State

By Jeff Lund

Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA head coach Dave Sitton had been saying for weeks that any more losses would end the possibility of the UA rugby team making the playoffs.

After beating UCLA Friday and leading Long Beach State with less than a minute remaining, Arizona seemed to be in good shape.

However, that last minute will likely haunt the Wildcats for a long time.

Leading by six with two minutes remaining in the contest, two UA ruggers were yellow-carded, forcing Arizona to play out the game short two players.

Despite playing the final two minutes short-handed, Arizona appeared to have the game locked up. But a last-second try by Long Beach State gave the 49ers a 33-32 victory and ended any chances of UA making the playoffs. LBSU players celebrated wildly as Arizona was forced to deal with the reality of its situation.

"Their guys just went crazy afterward," Sitton said.

Sitton said he was baffled by the two yellow cards, which normally come only after repeated warnings.

"That is absolutely unheard of," Sitton said. "I don't know what was going on with those referees."

Before the loss to Long Beach, Arizona had extended its winning streak to three games by beating UCLA 41-19 behind two tries by fullback David Wood.

The UCLA game marked the return of UA senior Jonathan Gray from a hamstring injury.

"It was great to be back on the field," Gray said. "I just did what I could and moved the ball. I probably should have come out early, though. I got sore towards the end of the game."

The soreness kept Gray out of Sunday's game against Long Beach.

Gray said that inconsistent play hurt the UA ruggers, but he added the team is focused on winning its tournaments to close out the season and restructure for next year.

Despite the loss, Sitton said he is upbeat about the future of UA rugby.

"We will be invited to NIT-type tournaments in San Antonio and Washington D.C.," Sitton said. "The seniors know the situation. Losing Josh Allen just kills me, but we have a great group of recruits coming in. We have played a lot of freshmen this year, so they are getting a lot of experience."

UA rugby will return this weekend when they play host to the Arizona Memorial Invitational at Estevan Park.

Both undefeated Ohio State and Sacramento State - the defending Division II National Champion - are slated to lock heads with Arizona.