Tech Ruggers Show Promise in Opening Scrimmage

SOCORRO, N.M. February 1, 2016 – After two weeks of training, New Mexico Tech’s men’s rugby club opened their spring 2016 campaign Sunday in Socorro with a scrimmage-style match against the New Mexico Brujos of Albuquerque. In unseasonably warm January conditions both teams struggled at times to scrape off the rust of an extended winter break, but despite being outscored 26-21, Tech made progress toward their challenging match against the University of New Mexico Lobos next Saturday.   

In their first competitive foray since October, the collegians showed glimpses of an exciting style of play marked by stronger back line play. If the Pygmies can continue to develop the style of play on display Sunday, Tech’s opponents will have to contend with scoring threats from sideline to sideline. 

Tech blooded a good number of recruits Sunday, including two with significant high school rugby experience: Kris Ford of Fairfax County, Va., and Logan Blake of Albuquerque. Playing their first-ever “live” rugby after just two weeks of training were Isaiah Lucero, Jake Maxey, Dave Parsons, Luis Rios, and Patrick “PJ” Schmidt.

In order to enable different player combinations the teams played four 20-minute quarters rather than rugby’s regulation two 40-minute halves. The more experienced men’s side came out strongly and scored the first five-point try after 10 minutes of sustained ball possession.The conversion kick was good for a seven-point lead. 

Shortly into the second quarter the Pygmies cashed in on their recent emphasis at training on attacking from the two wing positions. Tech’s eight forwards secured the ball and scrumhalf Isaac Juarez spun it to flyhalf (first back in the line) John Mark Stiles, who ran a fake crossing pattern with center Tanner Graham. The defending backs were completely fooled when sophomore Geno Palermo streaked into the gap from his blindside wing position, took a short pass from Stiles and sailed for the distant try line with only the fullback to beat. His simple pass back to Stiles running in support made for an easy try between the goalposts and center Javier Koerdell’s conversion kick knotted the scores.

The Brujos answered with a long counter attacking try when the Pygmies’ defensive pattern broke down after a kick ahead by Tech’s Joe Wilch. The conversion kick was good for a 14-7 lead.

The Pygmies made a heroic try line stand early in the third 20 minutes, culminating in sophomore hooker Miguel Santillanes Lopez’s ball-stealing hook in a scrum five meters out. Tech’s midfield line of Stiles, Graham, and Koerdell settled in and occasionally unleashed an athletic if not highly experienced stable of outside backs with timely and accurate passing. On one such occasion the ball came to debutante wing Jake Maxey who outstepped defenders before letting fly an offload pass to Joe Wilch as he was tackled. Wilch took the pass on the burst and dove over the line for Tech’s second five-pointer. Koerdell’s conversion was on target to level proceedings at 14 points apiece.

Just before the end of the third period Brujo wing Shane Williams scored a long-range try after a series of dribble kicks carried play down the field. The missed conversion kick left the score 19-14 to the Brujos.

Javier Koerdell appeared to steal the day for the Pygmies when he intercepted a pass and outmaneuvered the Brujo fullback to score and convert a 40-meter try with only four minutes remaining for a 21-26 lead. But Tech’s tackling let them down in the last minute, allowing David Campese to cross for a converted try and the final 26-21 margin.

Co-captains Fritz Hieb and John Mark Stiles selected Jake Maxey as man of the match for New Mexico Tech. Tech will take on the Lobos at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, at Johnson Field on the UNM campus.

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/New Mexico Tech Rugby Director