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Rugby Team Gets Landmark Win Over Santa Fe

SOCORRO, N.M. March 7, 2016 – The New Mexico Tech Rugby Club upended defending Rio Grande Rugby Union club division champions Santa Fe Santos 39-19 in Socorro on Saturday. The Pygmies blew open a 13-7 halftime lead to score 26 second-half points against a capital-city team traveling without a prudent number of substitute players. It was New Mexico Tech’s second win over Santa Fe since 1973.

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New Mexic Tech wing Jake Maxey advances the ball against the Santa Fe Santos in Socorro Saturday. 

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   No. 7 Nigel Ruckhaus and John Mark Stiles tackle former Pygmy great Isaiah Sanchez.
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Fritz Heib skies over the opposition to receive a kickoff. 

Photos by William Colburn

Play commenced at 1 p.m. with temperatures in the mid-70s and no appreciable wind. Tech’s scrummaging looked shaky against their more experienced opponents but the Pygmies’ defense held firm. The Pygmies made incremental advances in attack and after nine minutes fullback Javier Koerdell got Tech on the scoreboard with a three-point penalty kick 30 meters from the goalpost.

The first half-hour was primarily a defensive struggle. Santa Fe proved adept at stealing the ball in rucks (post-tackle situations) but effective tackling by the students kept the Santos at bay. After 31 minutes Tech outside center Tanner Graham passed to first-season wing Sean Reed and looped behind him for a return pass. The 225-pound back showed impressive pace to score from 40 meters. Koerdell’s conversion kick attempt was wide but Tech led 8–0.

Four minutes later Graham kicked the ball far upfield after a penalty on the Santos. The Santa Fe wing coughed up ball possession and the Pygmy forwards advanced the ball before scrumhalf Brian Arko passed it out for the backs to run a piercing attack on the left side. Koerdell touched down the try and after fellow wing Jake Maxey’s unsuccessful kick attempt Tech held a 13-0 lead.

Santa Fe finally struck at 38 minutes when scrumhalf Luke Frauhiger got loose on the blind side following a scrum. Frauhiger was practically over the line when a tackle by Tech’s last defender, Javier Koerdell, was adjudged high and dangerous, resulting in a 7-point penalty try. The score remained 13-7 as the teams headed into the five-minute halftime break.

Santa Fe got within a single point at 13-12 four minutes into the second half on a short run by 260-pound lock forward Jake Brinton after an extended goal line stand by the Pygmies.

Four minutes later NMT flyhalf John Mark Stiles slipped past his opposite number and ripped off a weaving run through the cover defense. The attack eventually died but the switch seemed to click on for Tech. Halftime alterations to the scrum were producing more ball possession and several players, including forwards Isaac Juarez and Dave Parsons, followed suit with dangerous runs of their own.

16 minutes into the half first-season wing Jake Maxey scored his maiden try by carrying the final 25 meters after a passing movement featuring flank forward Nigel Ruckhaus and several Tech backs. Koerdell added the conversion for a 20-12 NMT lead.

At 22 minutes Tanner Graham again handled the ball twice before crossing the try line in the right corner. Santa Fe’s defense was stretched to the point Graham was able to run though the try zone to touch down directly between the posts, making Koerdell’s conversion kick a foregone conclusion.

Tanner Graham got his third try after Tech’s forwards took possession from the following kickoff, once again on a give-and-go with the elusive Sean Reed. Graham’s conversion kick might have been a celebration of the Alamogordo, N.M., native’s second hat trick in Tech’s last two outings. He also scored three tries in Tech’s 49-42 win over UTEP on February 20.

Graham’s center partner Kris Ford, a high school rugby veteran from Fairfax County, Va., scored his first New Mexico try on an intercept to bury Santa Fe’s hopes with 10 minutes left in the match. It was Tech’s seventh five-pointer of the day and after Koerdell’s kick Tech enjoyed a 39-12 advantage. Elden Pennington’s try for Santa Fe from a penalty close to Tech’s line brought the score to 39-19 but it was too little, too late as referee Clint Richardson sounded the final whistle.

Rookie Sean Reed received Man of the Match honors among standout performances from several Pygmy players. Tech moved its spring season record to two wins against two losses. The Pygmies will host New Mexico State University at 1 p.m. March 26.

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/Tech Rugby Director