NMT Rugby Club Opens Season with Santa Fe Title

NMT Rugby Club Opens Season with Santa Fe Title
Tech faces Lobos Sat. at UNM's Johnson Field

Dave Wheelock
NMT Rugby Director

SANTA FE, N.M. -- New Mexico Tech's men's rugby club opened the fall season by running the table against its regional rivals in the collegiate pool of the 45th annual Santa Fe Tens tournament over the Labor Day weekend, with wins over the University of Texas-El Paso, New Mexico State University, and the University of New Mexico.

Overall, UNM captured the women's division, while Colorado Springs claimed the men's club title. Tens rugby features 10-player teams and 20-minute matches in place of the traditional 15 men playing for 80 minutes.

Tech's enthusiastic tackling, coupled with accurate and unselfish passing, seemed to catch its opponents in the headlights against UTEP and NMSU. Significantly, eight new Techies often looked like veterans as they accepted the go-forward lead of a strong contingent of upperclassmen over the course of the day.

Newly elected co-captain Javier Koerdell touched down Tech's first five-point try of the 2016-17 campaign from the fullback position less than two minutes into the 47-7 win over UTEP. Succeeding first-half tries appropriately came from Tech's last two Player of the Year honorees, John Mark Stiles and current head captain and club president Tanner Graham.

The Miners got on the scoreboard with a converted try early in the second half, but it was one-way traffic after that as Tech ran in four additional tries and added three two-point conversion kicks. Rangy lock Ben Turner became the first forward of the year to touch down before Graham. Fleet second-year center/wing Anthony Bernal and the silky smooth Stiles accounted for the final 47-7 margin.

A New Mexico State club, uncharacteristically searching for consistency in its fifth decade, was no match for Tech's onslaught in an early afternoon matchup. The result was a 45-0 victory on the strength of seven tries and five conversions by New Mexico Tech. Prop forward Dave Parsons scored three consecutive tries in this match and center Sean Reed chipped in two. John Mark Stiles and Tanner Graham each added a try to complete the whitewash.

The University of New Mexico, current Rio Grande Rugby Union champions, spent the morning running roughshod over their opponents, Adams State University and the Santa Fe Old Boys, setting up a mid-afternoon match with Tech for early-season bragging rights. The Lobos claimed the union's 15s title last April with a shocking 53-0 defeat of New Mexico Tech, removing over-confidence as a factor for NMT this time around.

Nerves may have been more of a factor as Tanner Graham's opening kickoff failed to travel the required 10 meters. The Lobos ran from the resultant free kick at the midway line and Tech was whistled for a penalty at the succeeding tackle, from which UNM again quickly advanced. Tech could not scramble fast enough in defense and UNM had the match's opening try and a 7-0 lead after just 90 seconds. As play continued the teams appeared evenly matched in a high-paced match highlighting each team's running, passing, and defensive abilities.

Tech advanced from a UNM penalty at three minutes and the ball came to Koerdell, who knocked over one defender on his path to the try line. UNM held the lead after Graham's conversion kick was off the mark, but, just a minute later, halfback Isaac Juarez spun the ball to Stiles, who passed it on to Graham. The next pass found Koerdell running in all the undefended space the powerful fullback needed, and another storming try was the result. But Koerdell missed the conversion, leaving
Tech's lead at 10-7.

Tech's five forwards staged another assault shortly before halftime and freshman lock Bastian Avila got close to the line before transferring the ball to veteran prop and team co-captain Stephen Albritton. There was no stopping Albritton from short range as he plunged through heavy traffic to score a thrilling try. The conversion attempt was wide and Tech took a 15-7 lead into halftime.

Early in the second half, a lineout (inbounds) throw near Tech's line went astray and the Lobos got to it first. Once again Tech's temporarily disoriented defense could not prevent the try, which after the successful conversion brought UNM within a point, 15-14.

Three minutes from full time Tech moved the ball smartly and Koerdell took a pass on the defensive perimeter. The one available Lobo defender was not enough to stop Koerdell, but once again the conversion attempt failed, leaving UNM within a converted try of victory at 20-14.

With only seconds left, Stiles brought a sigh of relief to the Tech faithful with a masterful try after the Lobos dropped the ball. Stiles dribbled the ball ahead twice while being chased and dove on it in the try zone to seal Tech's 25-14 triumph.

Freshman Timothy Chavez, of Los Angeles, Calif., was presented with Man of the Match honors by his team's captains for his enthusiastic and unselfish play. New Mexico Tech will face off with the Lobos again this Saturday, Sept. 10,  in a full 15s match. Kickoff is scheduled for noon at UNM's Johnson Field.