LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The West Conference’s top two teams, Air Force and Colorado State, both left the Centennial State and earned road victories Saturday, Oct. 15. The Rams showed Utah State to a 50-37 defeat, while the Zoomies returned from Wyoming with a 47-28 win.
In its first season playing in D1A Rugby and the West Conference, Utah State has more than held its own and even picked up a win over Wyoming. Although the Aggies couldn’t pull off an upset of the West’s first-place team, they did make things difficult for 12th-ranked Colorado State.
“Utah State is a good team with some big, athletic players,” complimented Colorado State Coach Rod Hartley. “I believe they will be a really good team once they get used to the speed of the game played at this level of competition.”
The Aggies ran out to a 15-5 lead on the strength of tries from Conner Peterson and Marty Johnson. The Rams responded by scoring the game’s next 26 points, including a pair of tries by standout flanker Oliver Jenkins.
Utah State fought vigorously to stay in the game. Johnson’s second score stopped the bleeding in the 57th minute and Peterson’s second try of the day brought the Aggies to within six points of Colorado State late in the match. The Rams would, however, score a try through Tommy Garland on the game’s final play and walk away with the 50-37 win.
Jenkins was able to boost his try total to three on the season, but it was fellow loose forward Josh Collins who had the biggest impact from the back row. Collins, who transferred to Colorado State from Utah State in the offseason, look inspired playing against his old side.
“Josh took this team on his shoulders and led the way with some strong running rugby on attack, and staunch defense,” said Hartley. “Josh has quickly turned into a great player for our team, and we are excited to see him develop more at the eight man position.”
The 13-point win over the Aggies was the Rams’ fourth in as many weeks, including two over teams ranked in the D1A Rugby Top 20. Now after a successful stretch of results to open its season Colorado State looks towards its first bye week, but will still continue on with its laborious week of training.
“It’s business as usual this week,” Hartley explained. “We have set our goals for this season and so far we are on track with those goals, but will continue to work hard as we do not overlook any of our opponents and have respect for every program in the West Conference.”
Air Force’s trip north to Wyoming was a successful one. D1A Rugby’s 10th-ranked squad bounced back from last week’s loss to Colorado State to beat the Cowboys, 47-28.
“The team made solid adjustments with the lessons learned from that match and will continue to improve with players moving up to take critical positions,” Air Force Head Coach Denny Merideth said of the team’s response to its first loss of the season.
It took just 12 minutes for Air Force’s Braden Smith and Casey Rothstein to find the try zone for a quick, 10-0, advantage. Mitchell Cochell’s try and a second by Smith would help push the Falcons’ lead to 20-7 at halftime.
Wyoming found its footing in the second half, sending Connor Rezzonico over the line twice while eight man Terre Hellander bagged his first try while the Cowboys attempted a comeback. Instead, Air Force had answers for each of Wyoming tries on its way to scoring 27 second-half points.
A big part of Air Force’s offensive production came from Smith. The winger added a pair of tries to go with the two he dotted down in the first half.
The Zoomie coaching staff is no doubt thrilled to have a game breaker like Smith running on the edge, but has become even more impressed with his improvement on defense.
“He has the skills to break open a play as he did against Wyoming,” said Merideth. “Just as important, though, is that his tackling has become sure and makes him an all-around player.”
Both Air Force and Wyoming are without games this coming weekend, but return to the pitch Saturday, Oct. 29, against Colorado and Colorado State, respectively.