To the students’ credit the dam was not allowed to burst, and while losing the day 39-17, the students earned the respect of their larger and more experienced opponents.
“On one play I thought I’d run right through ‘em,” chuckled Britt Catron, a former Pygmy rarity at 250-plus pounds who now attends graduate school at New Mexico State University. “But as soon as I got past the first Pygmy, I realized another was wrapped around my waist.”
While Tech’s attack was often disjointed and ineffective, the emergency in defense loomed larger in the early going. Las Cruces combined team strength with technique gleaned over years of post-collegiate experience to repeatedly force turnovers in tackle situations. The Toads also rapidly distributed the ball through accurate passing to find gaps in Tech’s less-than-airtight defense. Fleet-footed wing Luke Clemmons burned the Pygmies for three five-point tries while Mike Brewer and Eric Schaar added one apiece. Brian Dutill succeeded with a pair of his two-point conversion attempts before Tech’s Jordan Fastle finally connected squarely on a 30-meter penalty kick to end the Pygmies’ drought just before halftime, 29-3.
At halftime, Tech substituted liberally in the eight forward positions to address a relative abundance in that unit. Meanwhile a relative shortage in the seven back line positions kept things relatively stable there, with the exception of a move by the dynamic Enrique Koerdell from a center position to halfback.
Perhaps motivated by self-preservation, the Pygmy defense stiffened in the second half. Nineteen minutes into the half Fastle hooked his penalty attempt from 40 meters, but considerably more play was being conducted in the Horny Toads’ end of the field. Two minutes later, Sepp Fuierer, a four-year Miner soccer star playing in his second rugby match, made a powerful run to take the ball within 35 meters of the Las Cruces try line, and his teammates were there to retain possession after he was tackled.
Fuierer got possession again after a few desultory stabs by his teammates, and made another bolt with the same result. Remarkably the ball eventually came to Fuierer a third time in the space of a minute, but this time the scrambled Horny Toad defense was in neither position nor mood to stop the galloping debutant. Fuierer touched the ball down between the posts as he had learned a few short weeks earlier and following Fastle’s conversion Tech had climbed back to respectability at 29-10.
The Toads weren’t done, however. Five minutes later Brewer recorded his second breakaway try and Dutill the conversion to reinflate the lead to 36-10 with 15 minutes left to play. Dutill stretched matters to 39-10 with a penalty kick with seven minutes to go, setting the stage for the day’s final tally. A lineout (inbounds jump ball) thrown by a Las Cruces forward near his own try line was contested by Tech freshman Stephen Stelly, causing the ball to bounce wildly over the visitors’ try line with the catlike Koerdell in full pursuit. The scrumhalf dotted the ball down while a few Horny Toads were still looking for it, setting the stage for the reliable Fastle’s conversion and a final score of 39-17.
Fuierer was named Man of the Match by his teammates after scoring his second try in two outings. The first came in a scrimmage with the University of New Mexico on February 4. The Pygmies will host the Ft. Bliss Strykers in a 1 p.m. match on March 3at the Tech Athletic Field.
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By Dave Wheelock/New Mexico Tech Rugby Director