Tech Pygmies fall in championship match
The University of New Mexico captured the Rio Grande Rugby Football Union 2013-2014 collegiate championship on a blustery Saturday with a 19-5 victory over New Mexico Tech in Socorro. The triumph capped the Lobos’ undefeated run through six round robin matches since last September against RGRFU members University of Texas at El Paso, New Mexico State University, and NM Tech. Runners-up New Mexico Tech – 3-3 through the round robin schedule – scored an 8-7 opening round win over New Mexico State while UNM dispatched UTEP 29-0 to advance to the late afternoon championship. Third place NMSU relegated UTEP to the wooden spoon with a 33-8 drubbing.
In an unprecedented Socorro event, high school girls’ rugby took the stage following the men’s semifinal round. Albuquerque’s Sugar Skulls scored two tries to outpace the Amazons of El Paso 10-0 in seven-a-side rugby. Skulls coach Jamie Schwebach reported recent growth in girls’ high school rugby with seven teams playing the game in New Mexico and El Paso.
A third category of rugby action featured a friendly collegiate women’s match of eight-a-side immediately preceding the men’s championship match. Members of the NMT Queens, NMSU Lady Chiles and El Paso’s Desert Dames chose teams by lot and scrummed down for a lively match that saw the blue team prevail over the white-and-blacks 37-10. The Queens were well represented in the scoring with Marisol Flores touching down for three tries, Nicole Gayer two and Cassi Coleman one.
In the first semifinal NMT’s Pygmies had a tougher tussle than they may have expected after beating New Mexico State’s Chiles 45-7 in Las Cruces on March 15. Tech took a 3-0 lead from fullback Joe Wilch’s 25-meter penalty goal in the first half before Djuan Aldredge’s five-point try was converted into a 7-3 lead by Alex Andrews’ conversion kick. Just before halftime Tech forwards captain Jason Lee crashed over the line to score a try that while unconverted gave the Pygmies the lead at 8-7. The second half went scoreless as Tech’s attacking game failed to fire and the Pygmies were forced to defend near their own line on more than one occasion. They advanced to the championship with a razor-thin 8-7 victory.
The Lobos kicked off the fast-paced championship match at 4 p.m. with former Tech coach Herb Howell describing the action over a touchline public address system. In the opening minutes, UNM’s powerful forwards had the upper hand in the set scrums while the Pygmies’ pack held their own in the lineouts (inbounds throws). The Lobos converted their scrummaging advantage into frequent back line attacks but the Pygmies tackled enthusiastically and fly half Steve Bernsen countered with several well-placed kicks to keep UNM off balance. The Lobos finally got across the line after 20 minutes when No. 8 Lawrence Dellaglio ran from the back of a scrum five meters from Tech’s line. Fullback Eric Laight added the two point kick for a 7-0 Lobo lead.
Five minutes before halftime, UNM’s Keith Keller fell on the ball after a teammate kicked into Tech’s try zone. The conversion failed and left the teams separated by 12 points.
The Pygmies got on the board shortly before the halftime whistle when the Lobos were whistled for a penalty and scrum half Brian Arko put the ball in play and passed to his backs. The ball came to center Isaac Juarez, who executed an over-the-head pass for Ben Long to dive over in the corner. Bernsen could not convert from a difficult angle and the teams went into the break with UNM leading 12-5.
UNM’s attacking pressure increased in the second half, leading to an increasing number of penalties by Tech. The Lobos repeatedly got through the first line of Tech’s defense but the Pygmies’ resolute defense consistently turned them back. Halfway through the half, Tech again transgressed in their own end of the pitch and a quick tap and run found the Pygmies unable to cover all the gaps. Eric Laight converted his own try for a 19-5 lead that would prove beyond reach for the home team.
Club president Jason Lee was selected Man of the Tournament by his teammates.
New Mexico Tech finishes the spring season with a three win, three loss record, following a fall season tally of four victories against eight losses including 10-a-side competition. Some members of both the Queens and Pygmy clubs are expected to compete in the Celtic Sevens Tournament in Albuquerque on May 17, one week after graduation at New Mexico Tech.