Western State rugby traveled to Albuquerque to take on UNM in a match that would mark Western's first full-length match against the DI team.
With several players unavailable due to work, injury, or prior commitments to the weekend's Spring Fest activities going on in Gunnison, the Western State men traveled to New Mexico with just enough to fill a match roster. The line-up was:
Pat Atherton, Peter Milana, Spencer Schenk-Wasson, Clayton Pruitt, Cameron Jackowiak, Sean Lavell, Anyang Ahjing, Collin Rhodes, Phil Krell, Nick Forest, Hayden Kinnear, Nate Acrey, TJ Peck, and Matt Hollinger.
"We went into the game with a mindset that was different than most games," says Coach Greg White, "and the guys really took to it. With the limited roster we had, and already having several key guys out to injury, we looked at the game as a learning experience and more than anything a game for fun. The guys definitely responded."
Western looked to start the fun by kicking off to the Lobos and right after kick off, it was apparent that neither team was going to give in early. Western stole the ball from the UNM ruck and looked to attack space. Phil Krell started the passing down the line that eventually found Nate Acrey who dipped and dodged through the Lobo defense to put up the first try of the match. Nick Forest converted the center-post kick and Western lead 7-0 within the first five minutes.
The Lobos kicked off and restarted the action, WSC's Pat Atherton received the kick and marched the WSC forwards ahead. WSC stuck to the same strategy and found Acrey again for the sides second try. Forest converted again and WSC found themselves surprised with a 14-0 lead fifteen minutes into the match.
WSC received the kickoff and, after losing the ruck, played their first defensive series. The Lobos attacked the fringes of the ruck and tested the wide attack. With several breaks opened up from undisciplined forwards, UNM marched the ball to five meters out from the WSC goal and used the low pick and go to score their only try of the half. UNM converted the try and the scores were tight at 14-7, the closest to victory the Lobos would be all match.
The WSC response was immediate. After a UNM turnover, WSC scrummy Phil Krell passed to Nick Forest who stepped his way through the Lobo defense for a great individual try. Forest converted his own try and WSC kept things rolling from there. The Lobos capitalized on inexperienced scrummaging from the WSC pack and kept the Mountaineers on their toes through the rest of the first half. Shortly before the first-half whistle, WSC flank Sean Lavell high-tackled the UNM scrum-half and were both driven to the ground in the maul that surrounded them. In retaliation, the Lobo fly-half kicked Lavell in the side of the face. Both sides erupted into a storm of pushing and shoving and grabbing of jerseys. After both sides calmed down, and the WSC flank was assessed, the referee asked both captains if play could go on. Both captains agreed that it could. UNM tried to setup a last wave of attack before half, but the fired up WSC defenders would have nothing of it. The half ended with WSC on top 21-7.
The only change at the half came with the Lobos subbing out their fly and WSC dropping to 14 men to finish the match. The Lobos never gave up, but WSC managed to string attacking phases together to bring tries to Peter Milana, Hayden Kinnear, and to close out the day, Pat Atherton. The final score: 40-12.
"UNM has had strong results all season; they barely lost to DU, another good team in our conference, and beat Mines. They definitely are a strong team with some great pieces to their puzzle" says Coach White, "it really goes to show you that on any given day, it can be anyone's game. We have always had this in us, it was just a matter of getting it out onto the pitch at the right time. Considering that we had no subs or room for error, the guys really stepped up. Each player who played every minute of that match earned every point and won the day for us. After the match, there was no man of the match, just men of the match."
WSC plays the University of Denver in the last match of the 2011-2012 school year on April 28 at 2:00 p.m. at DU.
Photos from the match are courtesy of Derek Lucero and can be found at the Western State College Rugby Facebook page or by visiting his page: