Leg two of the three-part Red River qualifying series kicks off Saturday in Houston, TX at the Hell or High Water 7s tournament.
The Dallas Reds currently sit atop the Red River standings, followed by New Orleans RFC and the Austin Huns. With just one nationals bid up for grabs in this region, Hell or High Water is a make-or-break tournament for teams wanting to make it to Kansas City.
If the Reds can win this one, they will have themselves in the driver's seat for that first place spot. However, if NOLA or Austin can take home the cup this weekend, the entire qualifying chase opens wide up again.
Two weeks ago, the Reds and the Huns flew out to Philadelphia to compete in the Eastern Super Qualifier. A poor start in the first game proved to be devastating for Dallas; they came back to win their next two pool play games but lost out on the semis via points differential. Fortunately, they can take pride in knowing they beat eventual winners Schuylkill River in one of those pool play games, so moving forward the Reds can still be confident they can beat anyone.
The Huns, meanwhile, got off to a nice start by defeating Pittsburgh but were upended in the remaining two pool play games by Old Blue and Beltway Elite. Both of those defeats saw the Huns go toe-to-toe for a half before falling apart in the second seven minutes.
For Austin, they'll have to show an improvement on restarts. Both Old Blue and Beltway were able to dominate possession by winning the aerial contests and completely starving the Huns of any second-half ball.
NOLA comes into this tournament with a bit of a chip on its shoulder. They were rather hard-done-by in the first qualifier as a consequence of professional French 7s side, Les Bleus, entering into the field.
The team from France dusted everyone they played, including both NOLA and the Dallas Reds. However, NOLA faced Les Bleus in the semifinal and Dallas faced them in the championship. As a result, Dallas got the first place points and NOLA had to settle for second after beating the Huns in the third-place game. They will have their chance this weekend to settle the score and take over the top spot in the table.
There will be plenty of talented players on display in Houston, including Narada Jackson, Breytin Maritz, and Chad Joseph for Dallas, Cam Troxler, Taylor Howden, and Jojo Tikoisuva for New Orleans, and Pita Naruma, Ryan Kretchmar, and Ryan Rees for the Huns.
Also, look out for the West Houston Lions and playmaker Kieran Farmer to make some noise. The Lions have progressed nicely over the course of the summer, and could be a threat to spring an upset or two along the way.
It's going to be hot, it's going to be wet, and it's going to be highly competitive in Houston this weekend. Stay tuned to find out who survives Hell or High Water and puts their hand up to claim the lone nationals bid!