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Pygmies Shock UNM and UTEP, Capture Title

SOCORRO, N.M. April 7, 2015 – The New Mexico Tech Rugby Club defied the odds – and 75% of recent history – to become 2014-2015 collegiate champions of the Rio Grande Rugby Union in Socorro on Saturday. Tech upset defending champs University of New Mexico 6-0 before completing a double shutout against the University of Texas-El Paso, 12-0.

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New Mexico Tech's defense in action against University of Texas-El Paso on Saturday in Socorro. Isaac Juarez (obscured), Carl Peart, and Javier Koerdell take care of business while Stephen Albritton (left) and Brian Arko (right) enjoy ringside seats. 
Photo by Derek Lucero
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New Mexico Tech scrum half Brian Arko prepares to put the ball into a scrum during Tech's 6-0 upset victory over the UNM Lobos in Socorro Saturday. On the side of the scrum is Pygmy veteran Blaine Trujillo. 
Photo by Derek Lucero

 

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 First-year player Tanner Graham of Alamogordo advances the ball in Tech's 6-0 upset of the Lobos. Tech won the Rio Grande Rugby championship tournament in Socorro Saturday.
Photo by William D. Colburn

 

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 New Mexico Tech's Ben Turner gets horizontal in defense as John Mark Stiles lines up UNM's Eric Laight. Tech upset UNM 6-0 and went on to beat University of Texas - El Paso to win the Rio Grande Rugby championship.
Photo by William D. Colburn

The Pygmies had won only one of four matches against UNM and UTEP since autumn 2014 and were seeded third in the 2014-2015 tournament, transformed into a round-robin format with the unexpected discontinuation of New Mexico State University’s Chiles Rugby Club.

On the strength of their perfect 4-0 record against NMT and UTEP, the Lobos fancied their chances to bag their third win in a row against a Pygmy team with only one available substitute in the 10 a.m. opener before going rested into the day’s third and final round-robin match against a Miners team recently off the field from their mid-day match versus NMT. But the Techies weren’t in the mood to cooperate with either the Lobos or the Miners.

Instead the Pygmies dominated early ball possession against the Lobos, backing the visitors into desperate defense near their own try line. Tech’s eight forwards were showing marked improvement in both scrums and lineouts and the seven backs vigorously joined in the rucks (post-tackle situations) to keep the pressure on UNM. The Pygmies repeatedly got close to the line but could not manage to touch down. When the Lobos finally managed to move the ball upfield, a ferocious Tech defense soon recovered it and moved proceedings back into UNM’s danger zone.

UNM finally cracked after 21 minutes by giving away a penalty and Javier Koerdell made them pay with a 30-meter penalty kick. Following the resulting kickoff Tech kept up the pressure and four minutes later fly half John Mark Stiles succeeded with his own three-pointer as Koerdell recovered his breath.

With Tech leading by 6 points to nil, the second half opened with the expected Lobo fury. But Pygmy confidence was rising and they defended with passion. By the time Lobo fly half and team leader Eric Laight drew a disqualifying red card for tripping with ten minutes remaining, UNM had run out of both ideas and steam, and Tech’s 6-0 triumph was realized.

The Pygmies were back on the field against UTEP one and half hours later, hoping to avenge a 39-22 road defeat on February 21. UTEP looked fearsome in the opening minutes as they used their size and athleticism to launch a barrage of punishing runs, but the Pygmies once again held their ground. Pinpoint lineout throws by veteran Blaine Trujillo to 6’6” lock Fritz Hieb, ably lifted by Stephen Albritton and freshman Tanner Graham, repeatedly found the mark while the forwards continued Tech’s scrummaging dominance.

Gradually the spring began to leave Miner steps and at twenty minutes Trujillo, Hieb & Co. delivered another lineout ball for halfback Brian Arko to rifle out to the Pygmy back line.

Koerdell found a gap in UTEP’s defense and shot through, with Stiles running in support. Koerdell’s pass left the UTEP fullback clutching air as Stiles dotted the ball down for a five-point try. Koerdell kicked the conversion and Tech led 7 – 0 as halftime was whistled. 

Just three minutes into the second half, Tech elected to run from a penalty close to UTEP’s try line and scrum half Brian Arko put the ball into play. After a short run his pass found Pygmy captain Jason Lee scant meters from paydirt and the powerful flanker did the rest. Koerdell’s conversion from a steep angle missed but Tech led 12-0.

With plenty of second half ball possession, the Pygmies missed out on some scoring opportunities when effective attack options went unseen or passes attempted in contact went awry. Yet they kept their line unblemished to complete the two-game shutout, make UNM’s 17-5 victory over UTEP in the nightcap an academic matter, and bring the Rio Grande collegiate championship trophy to Socorro.

Hieb was named Man of the Day by Pygmy captains Darien Williams, John Mark Stiles, and Jason Lee.

I couldn't be prouder of everybody” Hieb said. “Thanks for the man of the match (honors) but I couldn't have done it without BT (Trujillo) throwing perfect balls and BB (Albritton) and Tanner lifting like bosses.”

The next date on the Pygmies’ 2014-2015 calendar thus becomes a duel between champions, as Tech travels to Santa Fe April 18 to take on the Santos. Santa Fe, with seven NMT Ancestors (former Pygmies) on the roster, captured the Rio Grande club division championship on March 28.

– NMT --

By Dave Wheelock/New Mexico Tech Rugby Director