Unufe leads Eagles over Argentina, into Vegas Semifinals

LAS VEGAS - The Men's Eagles Sevens stormed back from a 19-point deficit in three minutes to beat Argentina, 21-19, in Saturday's HSBC USA Sevens Cup Quarterfinal.

Head Coach Mike Friday injected Maka Unufe after Argentina had scored its third try of the match, beginning the shift in momentum. The 25-year-old dotted down twice and assisted Perry Baker's match-winner to send the Eagles through to Sunday's Cup Semifinals. The U.S. will play South Africa at 4:44 p.m. ET for the right to contest the tournament's gold medal, with the match set to be broadcast online on NBC Sports' digital platforms.

"We continued to work for each other and fight for each other," captain Madison Hughes said after the victory. "We didn't give up and believed in ourselves right to the very end."

The Eagles had run out to a two-score lead over England earlier in the day before the second-ranked team on the 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series scored three tries in as many minutes to steal a victory. With a blank slate in the knockout rounds, Baker looked to set a blistering pace for the Eagles by chasing the opening restart. His leap and reach were higher than the lifted Argentinian, but his offload was forward.

Argentina lost its scrum but quickly found itself in attacking territory with a ball-carrier pushing Baker to the U.S. 22. A tap from a penalty against Folau Niua was negated by a turnover in the breakdown for the Eagles to set up a lineout, but the ball fell out of Baker's hands after a phase for Nicolas Menendez to score in the corner.

Danny Barrett seemingly leveled the score line at 7-7 when he intercepted a pass in the middle of the field in the final minute of the half, but match official Craig Joubert conferred with his assistant to blow the whistle for offside. The ensuing lineout within 10 meters of the try line was thrown short, and it took no time for Matias Osadczuk to extend Argentina's lead to 14-0 at the break.

With the bitter taste of the England defeat fresh, Hughes relayed a unique message passed on by Super Bowl champion and Team USA Olympic teammate Nate Ebner from the team's pre-tournament jersey ceremony.

"He said the Patriots wanted to start fast," Hughes said. "Obviously they didn't in the Super Bowl, but they continued to believe in each other and continued to dig in no matter what the score line was. I just reminded the guys of that.

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"We came in wanting to start fast, too. It didn't go our way, but with the guys we have in our circle and the belief we've got in each other - if we were willing to work and willing to fight we were never out of it."

The pep talk did not quite pay immediate dividends, as Stephen Tomasin's restart win to kick off the second half did not result in an attack. Argentina stole the ball in the breakdown and fed Luciano Gonzalez Rizzoni for the 19-0 try.

Insert Unufe, who scored with one of his first touches from the ensuing restart with a speedy run down the wing from midfield. Hughes converted from in front of the posts for a 19-7 score. The defense forced Argentina into touch from the restart, and Unufe found space to split two defenders with Baker in support to dot down in the corner. Hughes, with the task of converting from the touch line, slotted the second conversion kick to bring the Eagles within five at 19-14.

Argentina looked to waste some time from the 12th minute restart as the Eagles were penalized, kicking to touch for a lineout inside the U.S. 10. Barrett stole the set piece in the air, and Unufe drew a defender away from Baker before feeding his wing for the match-levelling, 50-meter try under the posts. Hughes took his time with the conversion in windy conditions to put the Eagles ahead, 21-19.

Penalties against the Eagles allowed Argentina to reach the "red zone" as the final seconds ticked off of the clock, but Ben Pinkelman drew Joubert's whistle with clinical play in the defensive breakdown not 10 meters from the U.S. try line. Andrew Durutalo took the tap to kick the ball into touch, bringing about the final whistle.


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Unufe would deservedly be considered man of the match with his performance, but the Eagles' resolve to come back from 19-0 down will impress Friday after the pool play defeat to England. The victory sends the team to their third consecutive Semifinal appearance in their home tournament in Las Vegas, with a familiar Sin City foe in South Africa waiting in the Semifinal matchup. The match will kick off at 4:44 p.m. ET, with the live stream available on NBC Sports' digital platforms.

Men's Eagles Sevens | v. Argentina
1. Pat Blair
2. Ben Pinkelman
3. Danny Barrett
4. Matai Leuta
5. Walt Elder
6. Andrew Durutalo
7. Folau Niua
8. Maka Unufe
9. Stephen Tomasin
10. Madison Hughes (C)
11. Perry Baker
12. Martin Iosefo

Argentina | v. USA
1. Renzo Barbier
2. Lucas Belloto
3. Fernando Luna
4. Nicolas Menendez
5. Jose Barros Sosa
6. Matias Osadczuk
7. Bautista Delguy
8. Joaquin Riera
9. Gaston Revol
10. Felipe del Mestre
11. Franco Sabato
12. Luciano Gonzalez Rizzoni
13. Javier Rojas

Men's Eagles Sevens | 21
Tries: Unufe (2), Baker
Conversions: Hughes (3)

Argentina | 19
Tries: Menendez, Osadczuk, Rizzoni
Conversions: Revol (2)

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC USA Sevens
v. Samoa - W 26-5
v. Chile - W 31-0
v. England - W 24-17
Cup QF v. Argentina - W 21-19
Cup SF v. South Africa - Sunday, March 5 @ 4:44 p.m. ET