SOCORRO, N.M., March 04, 2003. The New Mexico Tech Rugby Football Club took a ride on an emotional roller coaster Saturday in Albuquerque, jetting off to a two-try lead before falling behind, battling back, and finally losing 26-24 to the Brujos RFC on a heartbreaking play at the final whistle.

The Pygmies tasted success after ten minutes on a perfectly executed backline play initiated by flyhalf Rob Harrison, who fed center Patrick Simons before running around him to take a return pass. Harrison’s second pass found Maximillian Charbonneau steaming through a narrow gap in the defense, and after shedding a desperate tackle, the freshman fullback showed his pace over the remaining 30 yards. Center Patrick Simons’s conversion kick was good for a 7-0 Tech lead.

At 16 minutes the Pygymies turned desperate defense near their line into seven more points when the Brujos turned the ball over in a tackle. Scrumhalf Paul Quintana came up with the ball and heard veteran wing Mike Bauer’s call just before being tackled. Of all the Tech players, Bauer was the man for the job, and the speedster outraced the cover defense some 90 yards for a try between the posts.

At this point the Brujos seemed to awaken from a slumber, and stole the succeeding kickoff (in rugby the non-scoring team kicks off to resume play). Within 30 seconds they had worked the ball straight down the field through several tackles, and Irish-born prop Tom Kinch slid over to make it 14-7.

Play settled into a defensive battle from this point. The Brujos mounted several challenging attacks, but each stalled through lax ball handling. For their part, the Pygmies seemed to follow their elders’ lead, and two clear scoring opportunities went begging for the same reason. 35 minutes into the 40-minute first half, hometown scrumhalf Ed Stephens found a gap and scored. With the successful conversion, the teams went into halftime knotted at 14.

The Brujos took the lead with a try by center Matt Odle just four minutes into the second half, 21-14. Playing with new confidence, the larger Albuquerque team placed Tech scrumhalf Paul Quintana and his forwards under increased pressure, and the outlet passes to Harrison often did not find their mark.

Finally, using the kicking tactic which worked so well against New Mexico State the week before, Tech got into the Brujos’s end and the defenders were whistled for hands in the ruck after a tackle. Simons coolly booted the 3-pointer and Tech sneaked to within four at 21-17.

But once again the hometowners struck for a try, this one touched down by Brian Harrington, after a deft series of passes. The conversion kicked failed, but the Pygmies trailed 26-17 with a little more than 20 minutes remaining.

The students’ superior fitness began to show in the waning minutes, and most of the play was carried on in the Brujo end. Finally, after a prolonged goal line stand, Quintana barged across to exact a bit of revenge for his harsh treatment, and Simons’s kick was true, setting the stage for the final drama at 26-24, Brujos, with 14 minutes left to play.

With referee Col. Mark Niece checking his watch, Harrison kicked and his teammates ran their way close to the Brujo line. A pitched battle during which the students recycled ball possession flawlessly resulted in a set scrum five yards out. Hooker Dan Meiser heeled the ball cleanly back through his forwards and Rob Harrison broke to the short side in anticipation of Quintana’s short pass. Drawing teammate Justin Monroe’s defender to him, Harrison hit Monroe with a soft pass and the dashing winger flew across the line for the apparent game-winning try. But fate intervened at the last possible instant, and the ball spilled from Monroe’s grasp just before he could place it down to register the score. Tech’s reserves, jumping and screaming on the sideline, fell silent as the final whistle blew. Brujos 26, Pygmies 24.

For Tech, the ubiquitous senior lock forward Brook Jilek was recognized as Man of the Match for his outstanding lineout (inbounds) play, sound running and tackling, and tireless mobility. New Mexico Tech (1-1) now takes off two weekends for midterm exams and academic spring break, and will return to action March 22 in El Paso against a side from Major League Rugby members El Paso Rugby Football Club.