Ruggers Get Home Win Over UTEP

SOCORRO, N.M. September 19, 2013 – New Mexico Tech and the University of Texas at El Paso found a window between rainstorms of sufficient duration to renew a long-dormant rugby rivalry in Socorro Saturday. The reestablishment of the Miners rugby program by El Paso Rugby Club veteran Delbert Arnold enabled the first 15-man rugby match between the schools in over 15 years. In moist but sunny conditions ideal for rugby, the Pygmies managed to weather UTEP’s own second-half storm for a 19-17 victory.

Besides struggling against each other, each team struggled against their own indiscipline as new players on both sides committed their share of penalties. Rugby allows play to continue following tackles but the laws governing this vital aspect of play take some time to master.

“Both teams had players coming in from the sides,” commented referee Doc Richardson following the match. “They need to come in directly behind the ball after a tackle.”


Tech freshman center Rourke Nakai encounters a UTEP ball carrier in Saturday's match in Socorro. The Pygmies won 19 to 17.    Photo credit Gabriel Montoya


Whether to their credit or sheer good luck, the Pygmies benefited more from the copious penalty count with all three of their five-point tries resulting from Miner indiscretions. The Pygmies tallied first on a rare penalty try (worth five points) awarded after 19 minutes when a Miner tackler went high in trying to stop NMT fullback Joe Wilch as he streaked down the touchline. Steve Bernsen’s two-point conversion kick sailed through easily from in front of the goalposts for a 7 - 0 lead.

UTEP spent a good deal of the first half knocking on Tech's try line but gritty defensive teamwork kept them out. Shifty UTEP center Jeremy Guscott finally got through with a nice piece of open-field running to score three minutes before halftime, but the kick failed and NMT led 7-5 at the half.

Six minutes into the second half Pygmy club president and forwards captain Jason Lee refused to go down after taking a short lateral pass after a Miner penalty. The powerful Lee, who moved in from his backline position to strengthen this year's forward pack, broke several tackles to score from 25 meters. Bernsen's kick fell off to the side to keep Tech's lead at 12-5.

Tech scored their last points of the match 10 minutes later when doctoral candidate and 2012-2013 Tech Sportsman of the Year Rick Cosentino of Buffalo, N.Y., showed the same determination in an almost identical penalty situation. The compact Cosentino bolted past two surprised defenders and half-dove, half-flipped his way over the line to score a try converted by the kick of Jordan Fastle.

Not only could the Pygmies not add to their 19-5 lead over the remaining 25 minutes, but they were forced into a grim defensive struggle as UTEP’s eight big forwards combined with a dangerous set of backline players to apply severe pressure on the home team. The Miners repeatedly drove down the pitch in part aided by Pygmy penalties, and on two occasions, at 30 minutes and then three minutes from full time, they converted the pressure into tries. Fortunately for Tech only one conversion kick flew true, leaving the relieved Pygmy camp two points in the black at the final whistle, 19-17.

Joe Wilch was honored as Man of the Match by the Tech captains following the match. The win gets Tech into the win column after three losses in a tough Santa Fe Tens tournament bracket over the Labor Day weekend. The Pygmies again defend their home turf this Saturday at 1 p.m. versus the New Mexico State University Chiles. NMSU crushed Tech 63-8 on March 16 in Las Cruces.

The Tech Queens also swing back into action Saturday, two weeks after a 64-7 home loss to the University of New Mexico. The Queens face the Atomic Sisters in Albuquerque in a noon match.

-- NMT --

By Dave Wheelock/New Mexico Tech Rugby Director