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Tech Falls To UNM Rugby

Lobos Upset Tech’s Rugby Championship Hopes

UNM Runs Rampant in 53-0 Win

The University of New Mexico Rugby Club regained the Rio Grande Rugby Union collegiate title from New Mexico Tech with a resounding 53-0 victory in the championship match in Socorro on Saturday. The University of Texas at El Paso Miners captured third place with a 38-30 win over New Mexico State University’s Chiles, who lost their opening match against UNM.

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Nigel Ruckhaus breaks loose against UTEP in the Rio Grande Rugby Union championships in Socorro. 

 

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Isaac Juarez serves up a pass from the base of a ruck (post-tackle situation) against the University of Texas at El Paso.

 

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Stephen Albritton advances the ball against UNM.

Photos courtesy of William D. Colburn

Second-seeded New Mexico Tech earned their way into the championship match in a hard-fought tussle with third seed UTEP that belied the final 24-5 score. Tech had to play at their best to win and came through with some of their best team play of the year. After 15 minutes of play wily Tech veteran forward Blaine Trujillo of Isleta Pueblo made a spectacular pass over and around a defender to set left wing Geno Palermo of Santa Fe on a 25-meter scamper to score the first five-point try. Fullback Javier Koerdell, also of Santa Fe, kicked the two-point conversion.

Four minutes later the Miners outflanked Tech after several rucks (tackle situations) to score in the right corner of the try zone. The conversion was missed, leaving Tech a two-point advantage.

The Pygmies struck again just before halftime after prop forward Dave Parsons of Lake Stevens, Wash., caught the ball at the tail of a lineout (inbounds  throw) and transferred to Nigel Ruckhaus, a product of Anchorage, Alaska. The mobile flanker bolted 25 meters through the Miner defense before beginning a series of passes that saw right wing Anthony Bernal touch down in the corner. Koerdell’s kick missed from a difficult angle and the home team took a 12-5 lead into the five-minute halftime.

Five minutes into the second half Tech’s forwards executed a catch-and-drive from Ruckhaus’s  lineout throw on the right touchline five meters from UTEP’s line. The Miner forwards yielded no ground so Pygmy scrumhalf Isaac Juarez, a Socorro native, rifled the ball to John Mark Stiles of Gettysburg, Penn., running at the head of the back line. The ball went left to Kris Ford of Oakton, Va., and Tanner Graham of Alamogordo, N.M., before Koerdell came up from his fullback position to take the final pass from Palermo and score on the right side. Koerdell’s kick missed but Tech led 17-5.

Palermo ended scoring with his second try as Koerdell returned the wing’s earlier favor following a Miner turnover midway through the half. Palermo’s conversion kick was good and Tech’s 24-5 win put them through to the final against UNM, easy winners over New Mexico State.  

The championship match kicked off in ideal playing weather: cool temperatures, overcast skies, and no wind. Play opened evenly but after five minutes UNM’s right wing Luis de Pedro crossed Tech’s line on a quick run after a Pygmy penalty. Five minutes later UNM lock forward Dustin Soflin showed good skills for a big man to release fullback Kyle Gale for a try that went unconverted. Tech shot themselves in the foot again 10 minutes later by committing another penalty close to their own posts, resulting in a five-pointer by Aaron Holets that put UNM up 17-0. Gale scored between the posts almost immediately following the subsequent kickoff and the Pygmies found themselves in a 24-0 hole after just 22 minutes of play.

Tech showed occasional flashes in attack, notably by Ruckhaus, Trujillo, Graham, and Koerdell. But the incoming champions’ open secret to success was their domination in rucks (post-tackle situations), where they were consistently able to steal the ball. The combination of a bounty of ball possession, accurate passing, and strong running rendered the Lobos almost unstoppable. After a fifth try by wing Dasante Browne they enjoyed a 31-0 halftime bulge and despite a never-say-die effort from the Pygmies, UNM tacked on four additional tries for the final 53-0 score.

UNM’s big win was earned at the school of hard knocks. Competing with deeper-pocketed university teams in USA Rugby’s D1A division, the Lobos went winless against the universities of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Colorado State, and the U.S. Air Force Academy. Officially they scored 39 points along the way while allowing 438.

“I thought a lot of guys were going to head for the woods after some of those big losses,” conceded UNM head coach Tom Goslau at Saturday’s post-tournament ceremonial dinner. “But each week they came back, willing to work harder.”

Javier Koerdell was chosen NMT’s Man of the Match. The Pygmies’ spring record moves to six wins against two losses, both to UNM. Those players able to attend one week after graduation will form a team to compete in the annual Celtic 7-man tournament at Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta Park on May 21.

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/Tech  Rugby Director