Tech alumni Ruggers notch 49ers win

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New Mexico Tech’s alumni rugby team, the Ancestors, rallied in the second half of the school’s annual 49ers Black & Blue Homecoming match to nip the student Pygmies by a 34-26 margin. The weekend visitors, featuring several players from teams in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, as well as a few seasoned vets not currently attached, scored three five-point tries against the students’ one to overcome a 15-19 halftime deficit and claim bragging rights for another year. The lead changed hands five times in a match that kept spectators entertained for over 80 minutes.

Courtesy of William Colburn: Pablo Garibay of the NMT Ancestors alumni team tries to beat the tackle of Pygmy fly half Brock Romero as fellow alumnus Jay Herrera (10) and undergraduate player Jason Lee move to support the play. The alumni team beat the undergrads 34 to 26 in the 49ers classic.

The result was redemption of sorts for the Pygmies, who fell to the Ancestors 66-7 in 2011 and have struggled to compete in 15-a-side competition this fall. All four of their wins have come in the abbreviated 10-man format, including three on the trot in the Northern Arizona Tens tournament on Oct. 6.

Socorro native Tory Tadano opened scoring in the Friday evening classic from his position on the Ancestors’ left wing with a tackle-breaking 40-meter run up the left touchline in the 11th minute. Halfback Seth Daly could not connect with the two-point conversion kick, leaving the Ancestors with a 5-0 advantage.

Eight strong Ancestor forwards drove their lighter opponents back in the first few scrums and it was with some trepidation that Pygmy scrum half Rick Cosentino rolled the ball into a scrum just five meters from the old boys’ try line 15 minutes into the match. Freshman hooker Darien Williams got his foot on the ball but the scrum wheeled under pressure and the ball popped out awkwardly. Tech No. 8 Blaine Trujillo alertly scooped it up and dove over the line for the try. Fly half Brock Romero coolly slotted the conversion kick from an acute angle and the students led 7-5.

After the ensuing kickoff, the possession battle resumed with the veterans’ experience allowing them to consistently thwart their understudies’ initiatives by stealing the ball in tackle situations. At 22 minutes, graduate student Justin Guthrie, wearing the graduates’ blue and gold, got around Tech’s leaky right defensive corner to score his team’s second try, again unconverted, for a 10-7 lead. The Pygmies struck back eight minutes later when Romero’s precise cross kick over the defense landed just inside the try zone for onrushing center Jason Lee to touch down for his first try. Romero’s conversion kick missed from a steep angle to leave the students ahead at 12-10.

Five minutes from halftime, the Ancestors again found themselves uncomfortably close to their own try line. A desperate pass to Ancestor Jay Herrera arrived at the same time as NMT senior flanker Jerod Aragon, who wrestled the ball away and immediately dropped to the turf to record a try. Romero’s kick was good and the Pygmies regained the lead at 19-10.

Scant moments after the kickoff, Herrera exacted revenge by weaving his way through a mesmerized defense to cut the student lead to 19-15 at the halftime break. Then, three minutes into the second half, he underscored why he was chosen as NMT Rugby’s Player of the Year for 2010 by executing another scoring run (converted by team captain Pablo Garibay) to put the alumni back into the lead at 22-19.

The Pygmies responded midway through the second half with a thrilling play covering over half the field and concluding with Jason Lee’s second five-pointer. Brock Romero’s successful kick made the host team’s advantage 26 points to 22.

After a nice run of play brought the students close to the line, they inexplicably turned down an easy three-point penalty kick in favor of a doomed attempt to run the ball, and an organized Ancestors defense retook possession of the ball. Soon after, 2011 grad Royce Beaudry made a bolting 30-meter run to score and Garibay’s kick gave the Ancestors a 29-26 lead. One minute from full time, Garibay removed all doubt about the outcome with a long breakaway, and the Ancestors celebrated their 34-26 victory.

Jerod Aragon was named Man of the Match by the Pygmy captains, and Britt Catron received equivalent honors from the Ancestors. The Pygmies will join the NMT Queens in rugby action on Nov. 3 at the NMT rugby ground. Northern Arizona University will challenge the Queens at 1 p.m. while the Pygmies will face a powerful University of New Mexico side at 3 p.m.