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Tech Mounts Furious Comeback To Defeat UTEP

Tech Mounts Furious Comeback To Defeat UTEP

EL PASO, Texas – It wasn’t always pretty but New Mexico Tech’s rugby team was happy to take a road win Saturday against the University of Texas at El Paso. The Pygmies looked rattled for much of the second half after losing their early lead to a hard-hitting Miners outfit but steadied the ship to score four unanswered tries and claim a 41-22 victory.

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The NMT rugby squad (from left): Scott Toomer, Jeremy Hart, Chris Bond, Sean Reed, Miguel Santillanes Lopez, Javier Koerdell, Tanner Graham, Dillon Cvetic-Thomas, Everson Cruz, Dillon Mann, Julio Peguero, Kevin Gomez, family member. Kneeling: Zach Lepper Not pictured: Stephen Albritton, Geno Palermo, James Chavez, Chris Dinelli, Christian Rode.

 

As usual Tech dominated ball possession in the opening minutes, and 5’ 11” 220-pound debutante prop forward Kevin Gomez of Santa Fe scored the game’s first five-point try just two minutes into his first-ever rugby match. Teammate Zach Lepper couldn’t connect with his two-point conversion kick attempt but came good with a three-point penalty kick eight minutes later when a Miner was whistled for an infraction.

UTEP climbed back into the match midway through the first 40-minute half as an apparent lack of focus led to repeated Tech miscues. The only scoring before halftime came from an unconverted try by the Miners yet Tech took an 8-5 into the break.

The Miners renewed their momentum two minutes into the second half with a five-pointer touched down by flyhalf and captain Troy Rowden. Again the kick failed but UTEP had the lead at 10-8.

Two minutes later Tech hooker Miguel Santillanes Lopez hooked (foot-swept) the ball to the back of a scrum near midfield and Javier Koerdell, filling in for regular scrumhalf Isaac Juarez, picked it up and ran. Two defenders couldn’t stop the rampaging Koerdell and he plunged over the tryline for a five-pointer. The conversion kick was missed.

Tech’s 13-10 lead was far from enough, however, and after a series of penalties against the visitors UTEP was rewarded with a short-range try by scrumhalf Kahn Fotuali'I, putting the hosts ahead 15-13 following another missed conversion. 

Meanwhile the Pygmies continued to struggle with their form. Ball carriers ran away from their teammates, passes were intercepted, and the team became too closely bunched at crucial moments.  

The Miners added to Tech’s woes when a sudden turnover resulted in the ball coming to Miner wing Carlin Isles, whose blistering pace and changes of direction befuddled several defenders over the course of his 60-meter scoring run. Rowden finally connected with a conversion kick to give UTEP a 22-13 lead with 25 minutes remaining.

With 12 minutes Lepper uncorked a determined 65-meter scoring run up the left touchline. His subsequent conversion kick drew his team within two at 22-20.

Lepper’s teammates seemed to get the message and soon turned a long passage of straight-ahead running into seven points with freshman center Dillon Mann performing the honors. Lepper converted for Tech to regain the lead at 27-22.

Continued attacking pressure took its toll on the Miners and NMT took full advantage in the handful of minutes remaining. Geno Palermo of Santa Fe, who notably played flanker, wing, and scrumhalf in this match, claimed a well-deserved try after another battering delivered by his teammates. 

Lepper’s kick extended Tech’s lead to 34-22. After the kickoff the Pygmies pinned the Miners deep in their own territory. After a tackle, freshman lock Everson Cruz snatched up the loose ball and served it to Lepper sprinting headlong toward the line. Head captain Tanner Graham converted Lepper’s try just before the final whistle to seal Tech’s 41-22 win.

Gomez was rewarded with Tech’s Man of the Match cup for his spirited play and excellent lineout throwing. Notable performances were also turned in by flanker Jeremy Hart and Geno Palermo. Socorro native James Chavez was also instrumental in Tech’s win.

NMT will travel to Alamosa, Colo., to take on Adams State University on March 11. The Pygmies survived a 21-19 nailbiter against ASU in Albuquerque’s High Desert Classic tournament last October.

– NMT –