Strykers keep Pygmies winless

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The Ft. Bliss Rugby Club returned to camp in El Paso last Saturday with a 29-26 victory over the New Mexico Tech Pygmies. It was the Strykers’ first win of the young spring season while Tech remained winless after two outings.

Ominously and for the first time in over a decade, the Pygmies were hard-pressed to field the requisite 15 players for the opening kickoff.

Tech took advantage of their superiority in the set scrum to steal the ball and score in the 14th minute. The eight forwards drove the Strykers back, hooker Tyler Fletcher swept the ball back with his foot, and scrumhalf Rick Cosentino passed on to the backs. It fell to outside center Jason Lee to find a gap in the defense and the promising freshman came through with another surgical strike, hinting of great things to come. Fellow center Jordan Fastle boomed the kick through to convert Lee’s try for a 7-0 Tech lead.

Ft. Bliss knotted the scores at 20 minutes when a Pygmy was separated from the ball in contact, and after a few passes Stryker wing Doug Howlett put down a try converted by Jonathan Davies. Five minutes later, the visitors took the lead when powerful flyhalf P.J. Fatialofa stiff-armed several Pygmies before delivering a nifty offload pass for Richie McCaw to score. A missed conversion left the score at 12-7.

At 30 minutes, Tech was awarded a rare penalty try by referee Dr. Clint Richardson when flyhalf Enrique Koerdell was illegally impeded while attempting to run from a penalty situation. Again, Fastle connected on the conversion kick and Tech led 14-12.

But the dangerous Fatialofa again showed his well-honed skills five minutes before halftime with a powerful 50-meter run in which he eluded or stiff-armed several Techies to score. Fatialofa’s attempt to convert his own try failed, and the teams went into the halftime break with Tech adrift by three, 17-14.

The second half saw each team register 12 points, with Ft. Bliss striking at five minutes with a short-range try from Chris Cusiter, converted by Fatialofa, to stretch their lead to 24-14. Lee and his teammates answered with his 25 meter scamper four minutes later, and Fastle maintained his spotless conversion kick rate to bring it close at 24-21.

Fastle’s attempt to draw even after 17 minutes went unrewarded as his kick sailed outside the uprights, yet with 23 minutes to play the match was either team’s to win.

Thirty-two minutes into the half Tech advanced the ball into Stryker territory and the ball was spun wide to Lance Hernandez, formerly an active member of the rugby club who last fall answered the call of a former passion by resurrecting the long-dormant NMT Baseball Club. Hernandez, who had gamely responded to a teammate’s call that morning to fill a vacancy in the starting 15, took the pass and a defender almost simultaneously with the try line 20 meters away. Hemmed in by the touch (boundary) line on his right, Hernandez took the direct route, driving through the would-be tackler on his way into the try zone. Fastle could not connect with the kick from a difficult angle but Tech led 26 points to 24 with eight minutes to play.

The army men carried play into Tech’s end of the field and a Pygmy was whistled for a penalty four minutes from full time. After an initial assault was repulsed by several determined tackles, Fatialofa spun a long pass to winger Alesana Tuilagi, who motored in for a try in the corner. Fatiolafa’s conversion kick flew wide but the Strykers’ three-point margin held for the remaining four minutes to give the El Pasoans their 29-26 victory.

Lance Hernandez was chosen Man of the Match by the appreciative members of the Tech Rugby Club. Hernandez will lead a NMT team to Colorado later this month on the university’s first baseball road game in many years. The Pygmies will host New Mexico State University’s Chiles on March 17.