Tech Ruggers Open 15s Season with Win over UTEP

SOCORRO, N.M. September 23, 2015 – New Mexico Tech's men's rugby club watched their first half advantage over the University of Texas-El Paso disappear at home Saturday before finally putting the Miners away 27-19 in the game’s late stages. Tech introduced three players to their first 15-man rugby after winning three matches and losing one in a 10-man tournament in Santa Fe over the Labor Day weekend.


Scrum half Brian Arko applies pressure to his UTEP opposite during New Mexico Tech’s 27-19 win at home. Advancing from the back line is John Mark Stiles (left) while flank forward Carl Peart breaks off the scrum in support. 



Brian Arko finishes his long chase to prevent a score by UTEP Rugby Club's Shane Williams. Tech outlasted the Miners 27-19.



New Mexico Tech Rugby Club following their 27-19 victory over UTEP. In back (from left) are Ben Turner, Brian Arko, Anthony Bernal, Nigel Ruckhaus, Carl Peart, Fritz Hieb, Zach Rubin, Matt Schuh, Tanner Graham, Miguel Santillanes Lopez, Josh Hudgeons, Stephen Albritton, Tarun John and Isaac Encinias. In the front row are (from left) John Mark Stiles, Geno Palermo, Javier Koerdell, Joe Wilch, Isaac Juarez, Ryan Barnes, and coach Dave Wheelock 

Photos by William Colburn


The visitors' relative lack of experience became evident soon after the opening kickoff. A rout seemed feasible when Tech inside center Tanner Graham ran through the defense to score a five-point try within the first three minutes.  Graham's backline partner Javier Koerdell hoofed the penalty kick through the uprights for an early 7-0 advantage.

Sixteen minutes into the match Tech flank forward Nigel Ruckhaus dove over the try line in the right corner to complete an impressive passing movement by his teammates. Koerdell couldn't convert the kick from an acute angle but the Pygmies were having their own way at 12-0 with 54 minutes to play.

With hooker Miguel Santillanes Lopez the only new Pygmy in the forward pack Tech's scrums were solid and the home team enjoyed a seemingly insurmountable advantage in lineouts (out of bounds play) through 6'6" jumper Fritz Hieb. What the Miners lacked in rugby acumen they compensated for with spirit. A steady supply of ball possession for Tech didn't translate into the advantage it might have with better attacking skills from the Pygmies and the spirited Miners kept the score within range by repeatedly stealing the ball in the rucks (tackle situations).

UTEP scored their first try three minutes after halftime when the Pygmies were too slow to prevent the Miner halfback from sneaking over the line from a penalty mark five meters out. The easy conversion kick cut Tech's lead to 12-7. Tech halfback Brian Arko returned the favor three minutes later with an outstanding individual effort, scrambling 35 meters to score after a Miner infraction. The conversion kick failed but Tech led 17-7.       

Tech's discipline began to deteriorate as the half played out, resulting in a growing number of penalties. Two players spent time in the sin bin for high tackles as UTEP's confidence grew, culminating with two more meekly-defended tries that put the visitors into an unlikely lead at 19-17 with 19 minutes to play.

The Pygmies managed few breaks through the defense, but 12 minutes before the final whistle the pressure paid off with a UTEP penalty from which fullback Joe Wilch restored Tech’s lead at 20-19 with a three-point penalty kick from 25 meters.

With the clock winding down Tech produced the play of the day from a scrum in the middle of the pitch at UTEP’s 22 meter line. Second half substitute hooker Josh Hudgeons heeled the ball cleanly and Arko’s short pass from the back of the scrum found Graham running behind on a crossing pattern to the left. The ball went crisply to flyhalf John Mark Stiles and then to Koerdell, who scored against the outnumbered defenders. His conversion kick then accounted for the final score of NMT 27, UTEP 19.

Flank forward Nigel Ruckhaus was named Man of the Match by captains John Mark Stiles and Fritz Hieb. Brian Arko and Ryan Barnes had strong defensive performances and Javier Koerdell, younger brother of former star Enrique, was a threat in attack. The Pygmies will travel to Las Cruces September 26 for a 1 p.m. match with the Chiles of New Mexico State University. The Chiles defeated UTEP 38-17 on September 12.

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/Tech Rugby Director