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Tech Ruggers Doubly Victorious in Las Cruces

LAS CRUCES, N.M. October 2, 2015 – The New Mexico Tech Queens and Pygmy rugby teams returned victorious from a hot Saturday on the campus of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. The ladies got a little help from a small contingent of enlisted players from the Ft. Bliss army garrison in El Paso in defeating New Mexico State University's Lady Chiles 35-15.

Immediately afterward a bare-bones men's outfit defied the odds to outlast NMSU's Chiles by the score of 31-27. In a men's club finale to a rugby tripleheader the Brujos of Albuquerque beat the Las Cruces Horny Toads 13-12 with a three-point penalty kick as match time expired.

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Abigail Montoya (left) shares condolences to her would-be New Mexico State tackler after scoring a try in Las Cruces Saturday. The Queens combined with a contingent from Ft. Bliss Army Base to score a 35-15 victory.

Photo by Lori J. Cole

By prior arrangement, nine Queens players combined with five from Ft. Bliss for four 10-minute periods of 10-woman play. Soon after the noon kickoff New Mexico State scored the first try and led 5-0 after the conversion kick was missed. Minutes later Shyra Valdez, playing in her first rugby match, broke free and outpaced the defense 50 meters to score the Queens’ first points of the season. Phoebe Nicholls added the two points for a 7-5 advantage.

The Queens-Ft. Bliss team led 19-10 after two periods following an additional try by NMSU and two by members of the Queens’ military detachment. Tech & Co. went on to outscore the Lady Chiles 16-5 in the second half for the final 35-15 margin. Nicholls and Abigail Montoya scored all of the Queens’ tries. Shyra Valdez was selected Woman of the Match by captain Cassie Coleman and her teammates.

The Pygmies advanced their collegiate competition record to two wins on the trot following last weekend's uneven 27-19 win over University of Texas-El Paso. Due to educational commitments only 16 players were available to face 23 Chiles under the punishing Mesilla Valley sun. Regular scrum half and team president Brian Arko moved to fly half for the missing John Mark Stiles and center/flanker Isaac Juarez slotted in at Arko's customary position.

The Pygmies were ruled offside at the opening kickoff and things immediately seemed to spiral downward for them as the Chile forwards crushed the first several Pygmy scrums. After four minutes of dominating play the Chiles scored their first try as their imposing eight man crashed through multiple tackles. The conversion kick failed and NMSU led 5-0.

Tech leveled matters when outside center Javier Koerdell craftily kicked the ball behind the defense and won the race half the length of the pitch to down the ball for a sensational try. His conversion kick was unsuccessful.

NMSU kept up the pressure and scored again from effective back line play following a big scrum shove 5 meters from Tech's try line. The conversion kick was missed from the corner for a 10-5 NMSU lead.

15 minutes into the first half Tech fullback Joe Wilch fielded a kick at the midway line and passed laterally to inside center Tanner Graham, whose subsequent pass launched Koerdell on a scorching run through the Chile defense. This time Wilch banged the conversion kick through for Tech's first lead at 12-10.

After taking the kickoff the Pygmy forwards rampaged forward with a series of bruising runs, culminating with Koerdell's third scoring run straight through NMSU's battered defense. Again Wilch added the bonus for a 19-10 halftime lead.

At this point Tech's fears were realized as tighthead prop Ryan Barnes limped off on two painful ankles. Freshman Scott Toomer, attending his first rugby match, came in to fill the numbers and number eight James Chavez unselfishly moved into Barnes' physically demanding position in the scrum's front row. 

The Chiles reinforced their team for the second half and produced three unanswered tries against the tiring Pygmies. In the midst of the onslaught, wing Rourke Nakai came off with a thigh bruise and Tech were one man down with 15 minutes remaining, a 27-19 deficit larger than the seven points one converted try would provide, and the momentum clearly against them.

But the Pygmies found the will to drive the ball near State's line and after flank forward Nigel Ruckhaus was narrowly prevented from touching the ball down Tech were awarded a close-range scrum. The gritty Pygmy forwards won the ball and newly deputized scrum half Isaac Juarez passed the ball to the similarly flexible Brian Arko, playing at fly half. Tanner Graham took Arko's pass on the run and sailed horizontally over the line for five points. Wilch missed the conversion and NMSU maintained a 27-24 lead with scant time remaining.

Nigel Ruckhaus seized the moment with an electrifying 50-meter run into Chile territory from the following kickoff. Lock forward Ben Turner sprinted up in support to guarantee ball possession as Ruckhaus was finally dragged down and Juarez followed up to move the ball to Koerdell in full flight. The center crossed the line after a 40-meter sprint and alertly ran to the middle of the try zone to touch down between the posts, making Joe Wilch's conversion kick an easy post script to the exultant Pygmies' 31-27 triumph.  

Javier Koerdell was named Man of the Match by captain Fritz Hieb. The Pygmies will next see action at the Flagstaff, Ariz., Tens Tournament on Oct 10.

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/Tech Rugby Director