Tech Ruggers Defeat UTEP by Narrowest Margin

SOCORRO, N.M. September 16, 2014 – New Mexico Tech's men's rugby team won their first home match of the fall season Saturday, but as the international rugby press might phrase it, "only just." The Pygmies scored three five-point tries to amass a seemingly comfortable 21 - 5 halftime lead before the Miners took over in the second spell to fall by the narrowest of margins, 28-27. UTEP actually outscored Tech on five-point tries, five to four, but poor conversion kicking cost them the win as Joe Wilch of the Pygmies slotted all four of his two-point attempts while his counterpart Hugo Porta could only manage one.

Tech backs captain John Mark Stiles opened Tech's account with the first of his three tries after 10 minutes of consistent ball control by his teammates. Six minutes later right wing Aaron Long followed suit with a 60-meter run after taking a pass from center Javier Koerdell. Wilch's two successful kicks made it 14-0 for Tech. UTEP finally got on the board after 30 minutes when their big No. 8 forward Buck Shelford slammed over Tech's try line from a scrum five meters out. Stiles responded two minutes before the halftime whistle on a 50-meter gallop following a Miner turnover to make it 21-5 after the first 40 minutes.

The teams seemed to switch roles in the second half as UTEP began asserting pressure on Tech both in attack and defense. Driving close to the home team's line, the Miners were unlucky when the ball bounced straight into Stiles's hands after teammate Rourke Nakai's desperate defensive kick. The speedy Stiles put the pedal down to score at the opposite end of the 100-meter pitch. But Wilch's fourth conversion kick, with 35 minutes left to play, was to be the last scoring shot fired from the Pygmy camp.

With increasing confidence, the big units of UTEP rumbled through a weakening Tech defense, winning the ball back after virtually every tackle.  

Shelford led the assault with two more tries as the spring disappeared from the Pygmy step. When the Miners scored their fourth try virtually unopposed from a lineout five meters from Tech's line, it was "game on" at 28-22 with 15 minutes left on the clock. Eight minutes from full time UTEP got their final chance to win the match outright when Jason Robinson stole the ball while tackling John Mark Stiles and sprinted for the line 30 meters away. The Pygmy center managed to run Robinson down and jar the ball loose in a flying tackle as the players crossed the line, but El Paso's Jeff Wilson was there to fall on the ball for a UTEP try. A two-point conversion would have put the visitors ahead 29-28, but once again Porta misfired. Tech managed to keep play away from their try line for the remaining time to escape with the 28-27 win.

Fritz Hieb, a 6' 7" lock forward, was named Tech's Man of the Match by his teammates. The Pygmies host New Mexico State University's Chiles in their second Rio Grande Rugby Union collegiate challenge at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Tech athletic rugby field. At 10:45 a.m. that morning Tech's Queens Rugby Club will take on the highly-touted University of New Mexico Lady Lobos, guided by former Pygmy coach Shannon Robinson.

– NMT – 

Dave Wheelock/Rugby Director