LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The West Conference opened its season with matches in Albuquerque and Logan, Utah, but it was visiting Wyoming and Air Force that won on the road against New Mexico and Utah State, respectively.
There were few scoring opportunities in the first half of the Cowboys’ 33-24 victory against the Lobos. Prop Michael Lewis dotted down for Wyoming less than five minutes into the match, but Lewis’ five points would be the only ones scored in the opening half.
“There were long periods of play where neither side could sustain multiple-phase play long enough to score, yet during those periods there were flashes of teamwork that were nice to see,” said Wyoming Head Coach Dave Finnoff of the lackluster first half.
The ball finally began to find hands in the second period, and Wyoming exploded for four tries in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, including a second score by Lewis.
“Michael Lewis was definitely our player of the game,” Finnoff said of his mobile prop. “When he goes, the team follows. His high work rate on offense and defense was the key to our team finishing the match on top.”
New Mexico eventually found its own footing on attack and began to chip away at the Cowboys’ lead. First, full back David De Vos slotted a penalty kick before he and flanker Tyler Davis bagged tries to bring the score to 33-24.
“Our inexperience and playing people out of position as the team fought to deal with the effects of three yellow cards caught up to us, and we made some defensive mistakes and let New Mexico through,” explained Finnoff. “Give credit to New Mexico for keeping up their effort and coming back strong and fully exploiting our mistakes.”
The Lobos’ rebuttal, however, was too little too late, and Wyoming returned home with a nine-point win.
Grigor Kerdikoshvili scored 14 points and James Hanley led a stout Air Force defense to a 29-17 win over Utah State in the Aggies’ very first contest as a member of the West Conference.
“The match was an excellent opportunity for the players to learn about adapting to the field and play,” said Air Force Head Coach Denny Merideth. “Utah State played a very spirited match with excellent support from their local fans.”
The Aggies took a 3-0 lead off the boot of Jeff Clark at the eight-minute mark. The opening penalty kick was followed by alternating tries by the two squads, leading to a 17-10 advantage for the Zoomies.
Air Force extended its lead to 29-10 following tries by Kerdikoshvili and Chase Bockstruck, but Utah State refused to end its first D1A Rugby fixture quietly. Aggie eight man Marty Johnson added a late try that Clark converted to make the final score a very respectable 29-17.
“Credit goes where credit is due to the Utah State players,” said Merideth about Air Force’s inability to further extend its lead. “For our part, we did not adapt well to the circumstances and lost many an opportunity through not paying attention to the touch and try lines, as well as simply not finding the handle on the ball.”
Utah State will play its first West match as a visiting team next weekend against a Wyoming side that has a 2-0 start on its mind, but knows it won’t come easily.
“They are a good team,” Finnoff said of the Aggies. “We will have to play our best to deal with them.”
The Zoomies will take a step back from West competition to play military rival Navy Friday, Sept. 30, for the Col. Kevin Shea Cup at the Air Force Academy.