SOCORRO, N.M. September 14, 2009 -- The New Mexico Tech Rugby Club opened their home season Saturday with a hard-won 17-15 victory in their first-ever match against the Clovis Nomads. The nail-biter marked the Pygmies' return to the standard 15-man format following a runner-up finish in the Santa Fe Fiesta 10-man team tournament over the Labor Day weekend.

New Mexico Tech next hosts the Santa Fe Santos at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. The Pygmies have never beaten the Santos in a 15-man match.

Against Clovis, the Pygmies scored three tries (five points each) and one conversion kick (two points) to the Nomads' two tries, one conversion, and one penalty kick (three points).

Isaiah Sanchez of the New Mexico Tech Pygmies advances the ball in Saturday’s 17-15 victory over the Clovis Nomads. Also pictured is teammate Dustin Webb. Photo by John Rundberg

A light overnight rain Friday combined with temperatures in the 80s made for a sweltering Socorro welcome for the Rio Grande Rugby Union's newest addition to the men's division three competition. Tech competes as a collegiate Division II member. Clovis relied on the skills of a handful of foreign-born players to open the scoring after seven minutes with a 40-meter scoring run down Tech's left touchline. The conversion kick was missed from a sharp angle and the Nomads led 5-0.

Clovis's pack of eight forwards had the upper hand over the smaller and less experienced Pygmies in the set scrums, putting pressure on Tech's put-ins while handily winning their own. The Pygmies also had first-half problems connecting lineout (inbounds) throws with their intended targets, mainly jumpers Matt Kretz and Guilford College transfer student Graham Payne. The visitors kicked deep frequently, keeping Tech fullback Isaiah Sanchez and wings James Fallt and Enrique Koerdell scrambling to cover and attempt counterattacks.

Tech's saving grace lay in a backline of seven anchored by seasoned players who often advanced what limited ball possession Tech's forwards managed to gain. After 30 minutes of spirited play, flanker and co-captain Bart Hegarty's lineout throw was snagged by Payne and passed down the backline. Outside center Nick Aldape broke a tackle to score a try from 20 meters out. Jay Herrera's conversion kick failed, knotting the score at 5-5. 

Three minutes before the end of the 40-minute first half the Pygmies were penalized and Carlos Spencer slotted a three-point penalty kick for an 8-5 Nomads lead. Aldape supplied a heads-up gift for Tech just before the break by running down an errant penalty kick attempt by Herrera and diving on the ball for a try in the corner. Herrera further punished the Nomads with his conversion kick and Tech led at halftime 12-8.

Clovis profited 11 minutes into the second half when Tech freshman wing Enrique Koerdell was caught isolated while recovering a kick. Grant Batty recovered the ball for Clovis as Koerdell was tackled and sprinted 30 meters to score between the posts to set up an easy kick, and the Nomads regained the lead at 15-12. 

Midway through the half Clovis again kicked deep but this time danger man Isaiah Sanchez was ready. Jay Herrera caught up as Sanchez wove his way through several defenders and the two veterans produced a brilliant exchange of passes before Herrera delivered the ball the final 40 meters for the try. His conversion attempt sailed wide but Tech moved ahead 17-15.

The final 20 minutes proved an early-season test of stamina for both teams as high temperatures took their toll. Scoring chances on either side were desperately repelled or died for lack of support play until the final whistle sealed Tech's close victory. 

Nick Aldape was named New Mexico Tech's man of the match as a handful of outstanding individual performances emerged from a sometimes disorganized early-season effort.

-- NMT --

By Dave Wheelock /Tech Rugby Director