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Thin Pygmy Squad Beats Heat, UTEP in Sun Bowl

EL PASO, Texas, February 24, 2016 – An undermanned New Mexico Tech rugby team blew a 42-14 lead Saturday in El Paso but showed guts when it counted to escape with a 49-42 victory over the UTEP Miners. Veteran prop forward Stephen Albritton smashed over the try line to break a 42-all deadlock in the Sun Bowl and account for Tech’s first victory of the spring season.

The Pygmies traveled with just 17 men to fill their 15-man roster against a Miner’s team replete with the allowable eight replacement players. Unseasonable temperatures in the 80s were further intensified by the stadium’s artificial playing surface as Tech received the opening kickoff.

 

This video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMQsUNLpEeQVideo credit: Juan Saavedra.

Tech’s eight forwards dominated early ball possession in the rucks, or post-tackle situations. UTEP’s defense broke just three minutes into the match when center Tanner Graham executed a give-and-take passing movement with wing Javier Koerdell to put down the day’s first five-point try. The Sun Bowl’s goalposts had recently been removed to enable better viewing of a scoreboard simulcast of Pope Francis’s mass across the Rio Grande inCiudad Juarez, Mexico, so two-point conversion kicks were automatically granted to both teams.

Eight minutes later the Miners tied matters at seven when center Matt Burke outflanked Tech’s defense after a scrum 20 meters from the Pygmy try line. Soon after, the Texans took a 14-7 lead from a running play after Tech was penalized 20 meters from their own line.

Tech knotted matters again at 22 minutes after a sustained attack on UTEP’s line, with Graham plowing over a hapless defender to dot down his second try. Fly half Brian Arko went close to scoring at 25 minutes and Tech kept the ball deep in UTEP’s territory until flanker Nigel Ruckhaus barged over following some elusive running by rookie wing Jake Maxey.

The Pygmies marched right back down the field from the kickoff and took a 28-14 lead when Stephen Albritton broke a tackle to score from 15 meters out. Five minutes later Tech assumed a 35-14 halftime lead after repeated charges by the forwards culminated with the virtually unstoppable Graham’s third try from short range.

Tech seemed to sew things up by taking a 42-14 lead eight minutes into the second half. Flanker Logan Blake stole the ball after a clean tackle by Ruckhaus and halfback Rick Cosentino was there to transfer it to Graham, whose quick pass found Ruckhaus back on his feet. The flanker passed it on to Javier Koerdell, who wove his way past three tacklers to score from 25 meters.

But the elements were catching up to Tech’s shorthanded team. Graham came off the field with a severe leg cramp and Cosentino was not far behind with the same malfunction. The Miners began a four-try comeback barrage when Ruckhaus, called upon to step into Graham’s backline position, mishandled at 13 minutes and a fresh UTEP wing streaked home after a fortunate bounce.       

The Miners scored three more tries in a little over 10 minutes, as the tiring Pygmies struggled to maintain a coherent defense. With scores level at 42 with 15 minutes to play, Tech went one man down when veteran forward Blaine Trujillo came off with apparent dehydration issues.

The Pygmies seemed to find new energy in the final 20 minutes. Blake’s lineout throw from Tech’s 20 meter line found Ben Turner and the ball was passed wide to John Mark Stiles on the left wing. The gifted speedster outstepped three tacklers before passing to the hustling Ruckhaus, whose short pass found center Kris Ford running a deft crossing angle. The play covered 80 meters and aggressive teamwork through several more phases produced a scrum near UTEP’s line. The Miners shunted the Pygmies back, but determined tackling by a series of Techies produced a loose ball at the feet of Albritton. The big prop didn’t need further invitation to scoop it up and bore through four would-be tacklers to put Tech seven points up with an outstretched hand.

UTEP attacked fiercely in the final six minutes and the Pygmies had to dig deep to keep going. But keep going they did and the final whistle went as Fritz Hieb kicked the ball into touch for a hard-won 49-42 New Mexico Tech victory.

Stephen Albritton was named Man of the Match for New Mexico Tech. The Pygmies will host the Santa Fe Rugby Club Santos at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 5. Tech has beaten Santa Fe just once in the 40-year history of the fixture.

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/Tech Rugby Director