Tech Ruggers Bow Out in Semifinal Round

Tech Ruggers Bow Out in Semifinal Round

Sparse Team 2-2 in High Desert Tournament

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – It was a bridge too far for a collection of busy New Mexico Tech students, but the institute’s rugby team managed to reach the semifinals of the annual High Desert Classic tournament in Albuquerque Saturday before dropping a 17-7 decision to the University of Oklahoma on Sunday morning.

The tournament, marking its 45th year, fielded entries from 24 teams (10 collegiate, eight club, and six women’s) from five states (Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, California, and New Mexico) in the full 15-player format. Tech finished the tournament with a two win, two loss record. 

It was always going to be difficult to raise a team four weekends in a row, including a tournament championship in Flagstaff on October 1 and two home victories on consecutive weekends (UTEP and Tech’s alumni team). Tech showed up for their 9:30 match without the luxury of any substitute players. 

First-round opponents Fort Lewis College of Durango, Colo. – never a hotbed of rugby football – were in even worse straits with only nine players. An on-site agreement was made to play the 10-man version of the game, with Tech new man Everson Cruz gallantly agreeing to play for FLC. Predictably the Pygmies rolled to a 36-0 win with five-point tries by Stephen Albritton, team captain Tanner Graham (2), first-year man Dillon Mann, Isaac Juarez, and Nigel Ruckhaus. Graham added three two-point conversion kicks.

The University of Denver, a well-established program, presented a much stronger challenge. In the true spirit of rugby, Fort Lewis contributed three reserve players to the Pygmy cause but it wasn’t enough to prevent Tech’s first loss of the autumn season, 21-5. Tech’s lone try was scored by Tanner Graham in the second half.

Immediately following their first season loss, Tech reciprocated FLC’s goodwill by filling out their roster in a match against Adams State University of Alamosa, Colo. Adams St. prevailed 33-31 but first-year player Mann and David Lopez each scored a try for their adopted team.

Tech finished pool play against Adams State at 4:45 p.m. Freshman wing Dillon Cvetic-Thomas and Graham put down tries to get the team off to a promising start, with Graham’s two conversions giving the Pygmies a 14-0 halftime lead. The lead expanded to 21-0 with Geno Palermo’s converted try in the second half, but then Adams State roared back to score the match’s last three tries. A missed conversion kick proved the difference as Tech advanced to the semifinals via the final 21-19 score.

Sunday found a group of sore Pygmies one man short of a full side to face a powerhouse team from the University of Oklahoma. Prior to kick-off the Sooners accepted a forfeit in order to allow Tech’s use of “guest players” so that the match could proceed. Faculty club advisor and former Pygmy Dr. Taylor Dotson answered the Saturday evening emergency call and slotted in at lock forward while lock forward Bastian Avila’s brother Xavier, a member of the Albuquerque Rugby Club, filled out a starting fifteen. Former UNM stalwart Cliff Kindred joined in the second half.

Backed against the figurative wall the Tech team played their best defensive rugby of the weekend and after 30 minutes the halftime score stood at OU 5, NMT 0.  Five minutes into the second spell, the Sooners’ attacking pressure overcame a fierce goal line stand by the New Mexicans to record a second unconverted try, 10-0.

Midway through the half the Pygmies won a ruck and launched Kindred on a long run into OU territory. Graham sped up on Kindred’s left to take Kindred’s pass and outsprinted two defenders to dive over between the posts. His conversion brought the scores to 10-7.

But Oklahoma’s attacking machine was too strong for a jury-rigged team and after forcing several Tech penalties another goal line stand ensued, again resulting in a short-range Sooner try. The conversion gave OU a 17-7 advantage that held up until the final whistle.

In the collegiate championship Long Beach State University showed clinical skills while beating Oklahoma 31-3. Denver’s Black Ice won the women’s trophy while the Denver Highlanders beat the Albuquerque Aardvarks in the men’s club final.

The Pygmies will carry a 11-2-1 record to Las Cruces on November 12 where they will play a Rio Grande collegiate match rescheduled from September 24.

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/NMT Rugby Director