Tech Rugby grads win Black, Blue Classic

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A team composed of New Mexico Tech graduates survived a stern test from the current student team in the 49ers Black and Blue rugby match Friday evening, coming from behind to win a 39-36 thriller.

Staged annually during the university’s 49ers celebration, the 2013 matchup marked 40 years of rugby football at New Mexico Tech.

The Ancestor roster included six players chosen NMT Player of the Year during their careers as members of the Pygmy team.

The numerically superior grads trailed for 75 of the game’s 80 minutes but used the event’s special open substitution rule to finally chase down their young opponents.

Eventual Man of the Match honoree Fritz Hieb took the opening kickoff for the Pygmies in perfect autumn conditions. The students controlled ball possession through a series of tackles and after five minutes were rewarded when the old boys were penalized for illegally handling the ball after a tackle. The Pygmies opted to run rather than kicking for a three-point goal, and Steve Bernsen sneaked over the line in the corner for a five-point try. He then slotted the conversion kick for a 7-0 Pygmy lead after five minutes.

The Ancestors responded when Joe Tyson stepped inside a tackle to score a try from 15 meters three minutes later. Seth Daly’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful for a 7-5 deficit. At 12 minutes the Ancestors again transgressed and this time scrum half Brian Arko’s pass found Jason Lee running hard at the line. The powerful prop sliced 20 meters through the defense to touch down Tech’s second try and an unsuccessful conversion kick left matters at 12-5 in favor of the Pygmies.

At 19 minutes Tech’s eight forwards presented scrum half Brian Arko with the ball and the Pygmy backs launched an attack to the right, each player running and passing in turn. Outside center Ben Long passed and looped behind his twin brother Aaron to take the return pass as fullback Joe Wilch flew up from his deep position. Wilch took the short lateral as both Longs were tackled and breezed 30 meters untouched to set the crowd alight. Bernsen’s conversion kick opened a surprising 17-5 lead for the students.

Pinpoint passing and efficient ball retention took the Ancestors deep into Pygmy territory after the resulting kickoff. Just when it appeared a try was imminent the Pygmies stole the ball in a tackle and two lateral passes found speedster John Mark Stiles near the left touchline.

The freshman wing wrong-stepped a would-be tackler and simply outran the remaining defense for a spectacular try that, converted by Bernsen, gave the students a 24-5 lead.

The Ancestors regrouped with three tries in the next 16 minutes to cut the Pygmies’ halftime score to 24-22. Royce Beaudry of the Santa Fe Rugby Club cut a nice running angle to score an unconverted try, Pablo Garibay of New Mexico Brujos scored three minutes later, and then Man of the Match Tyson bagged his second try as the outmanned Pygmies appeared to run low on steam.

Stiles drew first blood in the second half after another long run in which he outran some of the fastest Tech players of past years. Bernsen’s kick drifted right and the Pygmies’ lead widened at 29-22. Garibay scored for the Ancestors from a scrum close to Tech’s line at 10 minutes to make it 29-27 and the teams settled into a defensive struggle for the next 25 minutes.

The old boys took their first lead with just five minutes left when guest player Elden Pennington (Santa Fe) burst through a gap close to the line. Rob Harrison booted the extras to make it 34-29. Beaudry’s second try with two minutes remaining burst Pygmy hopes at 39-29, but the Pygmies had no quit in them and in short order sent Jason Lee over the line at the other end. Referee Clint Richardson, himself a long-tenured former Pygmy, blew the final whistle as Jordan Fastle’s conversion kick sailed true for a final score of 39-36.

The Pygmies return to action on Nov. 2 against a strong Lobo team on the University of New Mexico campus. The NMT Queens meanwhile will be in Las Cruces to take on New Mexico State University’s Lady Chiles. More information is available at dwheelock@admin.nmt.edu.