RIO DE JANEIRO - The gold medal match between the United States and defending Paralympic champion Australia will be long remembered by fans of the sport. Already being heralded as one of the greatest games of rugby ever played, the double overtime thriller ended with the U.S. bringing home the silver medal as the Australians took the victory Sunday, 59-58.
It was obvious from the start this would be the hardest hitting team the U.S. had faced at these Games. The opening line up of Josh Brewer (Battle Ground, WA), Jeff Butler (Ft. Wayne, IN) Chuck Aoki (Minneapolis, MN) and Chad Cohn (Tucson, AZ) put two veterans and two first time Paralympians on the floor for the U.S. as they matched Australia goal for goal. Lee Fredette (East Moriches, NY) and Kory Puderbaugh (San Diego, CA) came in at 6.03 and the Americans continued to play aggressive defense to contain Australian Ryley Batt, arguably one of the best players in the world. Two successive penalties for the U.S. at 1.45 left them down two players – Australia was able to take that moment to capture the first true lead of the game 12-11 with 52.5 seconds left in the period. The U.S.’s Josh Wheeler (San Tan Valley, AZ) then powered down the court for a quick score and the Americans held off the Australians. The period ended in a tie at 12. Each team had just one turnover in the first.
The second opened with the original four on the floor for the United States. Tough back and forth saw both teams fighting for every score. Down by two, a time out at 3.05 brought Chuck Melton (Richview, IL), Butler, Aoki and Wheeler to the floor. A breakaway by Wheeler who was forced out of bounds by Batt at 1.50 gave the ball back to Australia and their lead increased to three, up 25-22 with 1.30 left in the first half. A quick score from Eric Newby (Littleton, CO) combined with a penalty and turnover by Australia let the Americans close it back to within one, down 24-25. The first half ended at 26-25 in favor of Australia.
The third was much like the first two periods of play. Chad Cohn forced a turnover at 6.14 in the third bringing the U.S. up 29-28. A missed inbound by Australia would allow the U.S. to take their first two point lead, 30-28. Quickly though, the score was back tied at 30. A penalty on Batt at 2.40 allowed the U.S. to go back up by one 33-32. The third would end in yet another tie at 37.
As the final period of play opened Australia’s solid defense kept the Americans from scoring and they took another lead 43-42 with just over four minutes left in the game. Batt then forced Aoki out of bounds at the key but Australia could not capitalize and the lead stayed at one. At the two minute mark, it was Australia 47 the U.S. 45. A missed pass for Australia at 1.31 allowed the U.S. to tie it back up at 47. Australia scored to go ahead 49-48 but a pass from Aoki to Brewer, who scored with just two seconds left, kept the Americans in it. Tied at 49, the game would go into overtime.
Overtime number one began with a score from the U.S. by Aoki that was quickly answered by Australia. The back and forth continued but just as it looked like the clock would work in the U.S.’s favor and they could take the win, Australia scored with 1.7 left in the game. The first overtime ended tied at 54.
Overtime number two played out just as the other periods had and came down to the last 15 seconds. The U.S. was unable to score and as time expired the Australians took the win, 59-58. Top scorers for the United States were Chuck Aoki with 21, Josh Brewer with 11 and Kory Puderbaugh with 10. Cummulatively for the tournament Aoki scored 111 goals for Team USA.
“Today we played an incredible opponent,” said Coach Gumbert. “This game could have gone either way, for us we came up one goal short, probably one second short. The thing that I am most proud of is the heart and passion of this team, they never quit, they never gave up on each other. It was an incredible group to be a part of.”
Final Standings for Rio 2016:Gold – Australia
Silver – The United States of America
Bronze – Japan
5th Great Britain
Team USA is now 27-3 in Paralympic Competition having been on the podium in every Games since the introduction of the sport at Sydney 2000 with two golds (Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008), two bronze (Athens 2004 and London 2012) and today’s silver from Rio 2016.