The first half of the Texas DI season is complete and three of the league’s four teams might as well be 0-0. This weekend provided a big second-half comeback and a bit of an upset to bring everyone in the league, other than 0-3 Texas Tech, to 2-1.
Texas vs. Texas State
Friday night in Austin, Texas hosted its suburban rival, Texas State. The clubs’ campuses are separated by a short 30-minute drive, and they’ve played each other a number of times in friendlies and scrimmages, but Friday marked the first time it counted towards a league table.
So close together, the players on both Texas and State know each other pretty well. “They’ve all got friends on the other team,” said UT coach Butch Neuenschwander. “It really is college rugby at its best. There’s no animosity between the teams.”
Texas State entered the contest undefeated and considered, by some Texas coaches, the team to beat. Texas entered needing a home win to boost its playoff positioning.
The first half was chocked full of good defense and careful play. Both clubs slotted two penalty goals each, with the only difference in the halftime score being an unconverted try by the Longhorns, making it 11-6 at the break.
Not ready to relinquish its undefeated record, State opened the second half with resolve. “I don’t think State’s been down in any match this year,” said Neuenschwander. “They were down at the half and they didn’t give up.”
State put together a nice stretch of play during the meat of the second half to claim a 20-17 lead, but Texas showed some resilience of its own.
“We could have come out in the second half and not let up, but my guys started playing silly and just had a ton of penalties in the first 20 minutes, but they showed character,” said Neuenschwander. “My guys, even when they went down halfway through the second half, just kept playing hard.”
Texas’ tenacity was rewarded with a late, go-ahead forwards try to give the Longhorns the 22-20 victory.
Texas Tech vs. Sam Houston
Saturday, in what is becoming a trend, Texas Tech gave up a two-score, second-half lead to drop its third game of the season, this time to Sam Houston, 33-28.
“It was kind of similar to the Texas game. We were up 21-10 in the second half. We had a major injury, one of our kids had to get ambulanced off, and after that we couldn’t find a way to score till the very end,” said Tech coach Ronaldo Arroyo.
“With five minutes left it was 28-28. They got the ball because we missed touch on a penalty kick and they took it down and scored on us right at the last moment. We let another one slip out of our hands.”
Tech, who made it to the DII National Round of 16 last season, is struggling this fall largely because of a lack of dedication.
“This one was especially hard. I only had 17 kids this week. Had a lot of kids quit because of grades and other things, and these 17 fought hard,” said Arroyo.
“Some of the guys who aren’t around right now seem to be in it half-hearted. It’s costing us because we’ve put in a lot of effort to make sure everybody’s there and nobody’s around. The 17 guys that are here are willing to kill themselves to get a win. The rest of the so-called team, we need to find out what the deal is.”
Sam Houston had been struggling with its own personnel problems coming into Saturday, but of a different nature, and it showed in the first half.
“We had some problems internally, I guess, and so our in performance against Texas State we were sort of imploding. As teams go, we’ve had some turnover this year, and had a few folks just not playing fair together, I guess. Against Texas State it really showed its ugly head. We thought we had sorted it out,” said Sam Houston coach Frank Rizzo, whose team trailed 21-10 at intermission Saturday.
“More or less, what I did at halftime was I changed some folks around and I think that was the difference in the game. We didn’t have the in-fighting on our team on the field. So for us, I think it was just a matter of getting our heads in the right place and playing some rugby the way that we can, so it was a good win.”
Every team in Texas had its problems this fall; Sam Houston’s in-fighting, Tech’s inability to close out a game, Texas’ struggling with continuity, etc, but they’ve all got some time to reflect on those problems now with the impending holiday break. When the league starts back up in the spring, only Tech will be worse for the wear.