Scotland came from 8-0 down to score 22 unanswered points and inflict a first defeat of the World Cup on the Tomahawks to finish unbeaten in Group C. But the battling Bravehearts face an agonising wait to see if the Salford success is enough to take them through to the quarter-finals.
Steve McCormack’s men continued their remarkable campaign with a victory that was more emphatic than the scoreline of 22-8 suggests – but it was not enough to overhaul Italy’s superior points difference and the Azzurri will clinch a last-eight duel with New Zealand if they beat Tonga at Halifax on Sunday.
It might have been different had the Scots not had five tries disallowed for a variety of reasons and they will be left to curse their misfortune if they are eventually eliminated with an undefeated record.
McCormack’s men were out of luck even before kick-off when they lost veteran hooker Ben Fisher in the warm-up with a calf injury that effectively brought his career to a tearful end.
It was a major blow for the Scots, having lost first-choice number nine Ian Henderson with a knee injury in the 30-30 draw with Italy, but Danny Addy demonstrated his versatility by slotting as a useful back-up dummy half.
The Tomahawks, who were already guaranteed a quarter-final place, were also forced into a late change after losing forward Les Soloai with a knee injury – but they made the best start, with full-back Kristian Freed taking Joseph Paulo’s pass and forcing his way over for the game’s opening try after seven minutes.
Undeterred, the Scots went on to dominate the rest of the first half but events appeared to conspire against them as they failed to register a point.
Centre Ben Hellewell got over the line after a determined burst but was unable to ground the ball and left-winger Alex Hurst had a try disallowed for a forward pass by Danny Brough.
Hurst, in fact, could have had a hat-trick before half-time – he was twice held up over the line – and skipper Brough had a try disallowed by video referee Henry Perenara for obstruction.
Having defended heroically, the Americans struck on the counter-attack on 22 minutes to double their score when Taylor Welch won the race to Craig Priestly’s deft kick to the line. That made it 8-0 and it could have been worse for the Scots had Paulo not been off target with both conversion attempts.
It was a similar story in the second half, with Scotland making the running, and their perseverance finally paid off with two tries in five minutes. Second rower Brett Phillips charged onto Brough’s delayed pass to cross for the first on 50 minutes and impressive full-back Matthew Russell cut a swathe through a fragmented American defence for his fourth try of the tournament. Brough’s first conversion attempt rebounded off the far upright but his second was on target to put his side into the lead for the first time.
Hurst was denied yet again, this time by the video referee, as he attempted to squeeze over at the corner. But there was no denying Scotland prop Luke Douglas on 62 minutes when he stormed onto Brough’s pass ten metres out from the line.
Scotland added a fourth try just before the end when Hurst collected Brough’s long pass to finally get the try he deserved and Brough kicked his third goal to wrap up the scoring.
Referee: T Alibert