Austin Elite gets narrow win

SaberCats show promise in pre-season loss

Courtesy photo

It was "Faith and Family" night at Constellation Field as the Houston SaberCats prepared to open up their 2019 season in front of hundreds of excited fans of all ages and creeds. While the atmosphere remained fun and engaging throughout the evening, it ultimately ended in a bit of disappointment for the home crowd, as the SaberCats fell to the Austin Elite 14-10.

The first half was a dream come true for fans of defensive rugby tactics, with each team making a number of goal line stands inside their own 5-meter to keep the score even at zero. Audible groans could be heard around the park as both squads came close to hitting pay dirt time and again, especially as Josua Vici (SaberCats) and Kyle Breytenbach (Elite) saw near tries slip away as each player found themselves just barely beyond the boundary of the touchline.

Meanwhile, inside the 22's is where fans got to see the fireworks happen. Scrumhalf Connor Murphy looked to distribute the ball early and often to his playmakers, giving opportunities to guys like Malachi Esdale, Olympic Gold-Medalist Osea Kolinisau, and the aforementioned Fijian-phenom known as Josua Vici.

While the swarming defense of Austin Coach Alain Hyardet continued to give Murphy all he could handle taking the ball out of the ruck, their firewall was eventually broken through around the nine-minute mark on a spectacular counter attack by the 'Cats, ultimately allowing Fullback Zach Pangelinan to go diving into the in-goal from 40+ meters out for the try. Sam Windsor would miss the ensuing conversion kick, sending Houston into the locker room at halftime with a 5-nil lead.

The second half came about with an increased sense of urgency from both sides to pull away from the other. Austin began to employ more high-risk passing phases, while the hits coming from the Houston defense got more and more physical. It was visible to fans on multiple occasions that tensions were running high amongst the players on the field.

With the help of a few Austin penalties, Houston was able to force its way deep into the Elite's territory, utilizing their signature "ground and pound" style of forward-oriented attacks, with Tight-Head Prop Charlie Connolly impressing many with his rugged style of play along the way. After a few exciting hits and some awe-inspiring displays of strength (don't skip leg day, kids), Alex Elkins was able to bully his way over the try line, drawing the first blood of the half and giving his team the 10-nil lead. A second conversion attempt by Windsor would go unsuccessful.

With their hopes of victory on the line, the Elite must have decided to take a page out of the SaberCats book, taking advantage of a few ill-timed penalties by the home team to put themselves in position inside the 22. Just as the 'Cats did to them minutes before, the Elite used their forwards to methodically gain ground, before a hard charging run from 'Big' Ben Mitchell put them on the board for the first time all game.

With the time remaining beginning to wane, each team began looking for that big splash play to put them over the top, with some crowd-rousing runs from either side seeming to fall just short every time. Austin was eventually able to find themselves inside the 'Cats 22 once again, but the home team were able to make a defensive stand that resulted in a turnover. Unfortunately, a box kick attempt by the 'Cats to clear it out was blocked, giving Elite reserve Aden McMullen the opportunity to scoop and score for the try, putting Austin ahead for the final time at 14-10.

Despite a last-minute attempt by the 'Cats to come away with the victory shortly after, the final whistle eventually blew on a penalty, ending the game in favor of the Elite.

While the final result may have been disappointing to those in attendance, there were still plenty of elements the 'Cats could walk away with while holding their heads up high. Mainly, their big play ability. This team has so many players, from Windsor to Trouville, to Vici and Esdale among many others who can give defenses hell all by themselves, and it certainly showed up on Friday night. And when they're in-sync with one another, it's an all-around nightmare.

Second was the physical nature of their defense inside the 22, which the arrival of new Defensive Coach Neil Kelly is sure to help improve even more. Austin's backs were able to work fast in the passing game, but more often than not they were left without an answer at the try-line door thanks to Houston's stout refusal to yield.

While the clouds may have briefly darkened the night over Constellation Field, the future is sure to be bright in Houston.

GAME STATS:

Houston SaberCats

Tries- Zach Pangelinan (1), Alex Elkins (1)

Conversions- Sam Windsor 0/2

Austin Elite

Tries: Ben Mitchell (1), Aden McMullen (1)

Conversions: Mitch Romera 2/2

Booker T brings hall of fame swagger to ESPN 97.5 FM. Photo via WWE.com

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

WWE superstar and master of the devastating Spinerooniemaneuver Booker T is the newest member of the Gow Media family, hosting the Hall of Fame show Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights on ESPN 97.5 FM.

The show, with co-host Brad Gilmore, airs live from 9-11 pm. While the main focus of the show will be WWE happenings, mixed martial arts, and boxing, Booker T isn't exactly shy about giving his opinion on politics, sports, and whatever else.

The show's title is a natural. Booker T was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a solo performer in 2013, and next month will be inducted again as part of the Harlem Heat tag-team with his brother Stevie Ray. For the record, Booker T (Robert Booker Tio Huffman) and Stevie Ray (Lash Huffman) are real-life brothers, but they weren't raised, nor ever lived in Harlem. They're from the South Park section of Houston.

ESPN 97.5 program director AJ Hoffman says, "Booker T and Brad bring an energy and excitement to the table. They want to be here as much as we want to have them. We think the show will bring new ears to 97.5, and they'll be a perfect fit in our station's brash culture."

Between breaks of his show, I cornered Booker T and hit him with 10 Questions.

CultureMap: Which is more frightening, fighting Triple H in a WWE ring, or battling him on TV's The Weakest Link?

Booker T: Oh, The Weakest Link for sure. Wrestling is easy. But a TV game show like The Weakest Link is a pressure situation. You've got to be quick on your toes. You might say something you wish you didn't say, like what happened to me. It was nervous time, sweaty palms, butterflies, the whole thing.

CM: Are you serious about running for mayor of Houston?

BT: Absolutely! I'm very serious. My ultimate goal is to be the mayor of Houston. It might be too late for me to get in the 2019 race, but a mayor's term is only four years. It looks like 2023 will be my time.

CM: What is the worst injury you've suffered as a sports-entertainment performer?

BT: Several years ago, I slipped a disc in my back in Australia. I was working a match, nothing out of the ordinary, but when I woke up the next morning I couldn't move. I was out for two months and had to take two epidurals.

CM: What is your relationship with WWE now?

BT: I still work for WWE. I'm currently an analyst on pay-per-view shows and ambassador for the company. My contract runs through 2029.

CM: You run an independent wrestling promotion called Reality of Wrestling in the Houston area. Most of your performers are young men and women new to the business. Do they have the same fire and intensity that you had coming up?

BT: We try to instill that. Not everybody is going to be like me when I was entering the business. In Reality of Wrestling, we have a lot of ambitious guys who want to get to the next level. We push them as hard as we can. If they don't have fire in them, they don't last very long. I'm extremely tough on them.

I don't accept any excuses. I didn't accept any excuses from myself. I was a single dad when I started in the business. I was working six days a week. I had a beat-up car. I never asked anyone for anything. I worked my butt off to get where I am today.

CM: You grew up very poor, and you struggled as a young man. Your life is very different now. Are you enjoying success?

BT: It's a funny thing. I enjoyed life when I didn't have a whole lot. You don't miss what you never had. Life is the same for me, I'm just able to pay my bills now. I've never wanted to be flamboyant or front everything I have. I have two beautiful kids, a boy and girl twins, a beautiful wife (former wrestler Sharmell), and a nice home. I was happy growing up poor, and I'm happy now. I'm blessed to have this life.

CM: Your most famous move is the Spineroonie. In the middle of a match, you would bust a break dancing move. Tell me the first time you did that in a ring.

BT: I did it during my very first match. I used to do it in practice, just screwing around. I was a break dancer back in the day. It was very natural for me. So I did it during my first real match. It changed the whole momentum of the match.

I knew it was something that would stick with me forever. It's actually easy to do in a ring. Under the mat, there's a pretty hard piece of foam, and there are 2-by-4's under that. It's pretty sturdy and it gives me good balance, so I'm not going to break any skin.

CM: Name the wrestlers who you most admired growing up. Did you get to compete against them?

Continue reading on CultureMap to learn about Booker T's favorite wrestlers growing up.

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