LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Only three Red River matches had been played ahead of Saturday, Oct. 22’s slate of four conference games. The busy weekend of rugby out of the Southwest included two games decided by three points or less in Baylor’s last-minute win over Arkansas and Texas Tech’s upset of Oklahoma, as well as our first look at Houston as a D1A team and Texas A&M having its way against Texas, 37-5.
Baylor 26 – 25 Arkansas
Baylor fly half Parker Vincent produced 11 points from his boot in the Bears victory, including two penalty kicks in the game’s first 11 minutes after Arkansas’ Josh Latham scored an unconverted try.
“We opted for points early on because the penalties were kickable,” explained Baylor Head Coach Mason Hering.
Arkansas regained the lead with a penalty from its fly half, Alex Reese, concluding the first half, 8-6, in favor of the Razorbacks.
It only took four minutes into the second half for Baylor to find the try zone through wing Pernell Greenidge. Scrum half Jawaski Nickens returned the favor with his own try that Rees converted for a 15-11 Arkansas lead.
Baylor, however, was able to string together back-to-back tries by Michael Haynes and Stewart Morris III for its biggest lead of the day, 23-5. Arkansas, a program new to the Red River but one that has been beating quality sides for several years, put together one last run. First, Chris Pharis went over the line with 10 minutes left in the game to pull his team to within three points of the home team. Rees’ conversion was successful, as, too, was his penalty kick five minutes later, to put the Razorbacks up, 25-23.
“Alex Rees is a smart player that as able to use his boot to change field position several times,” Hering complimented. “We knew that full back Corey Jones was their danger man, but for the most part we were able to stay tight to him and shut down his strength, which is in the open field.”
With only minutes left to play and trailing by two points, Baylor managed to steal a scrum deep in Arkansas’ half. After a few crash balls between the forwards, Vincent set up deep in the pocket and drilled a drop goal through the uprights from 20 meters out to put the Bears ahead, 26-25.
“Parker’s been clutch all season long with his kicking,” added Hering of his game-winning fly half. “He plays so loose that the moment never gets too big for him.”
There was time for a kickoff following the drop goal, but an ensuing knock on by Arkansas preserved Baylor’s victory.
Not to get lost in the eight lead changes and Vincent’s accurate kicking was the play of eight man Pete Hamm and prop O’Neil Mbakwe. Both players figured to be mainstays in the Bears’ plans both defensively and on attack heading into the season, and the two upperclassmen didn’t disappoint against Arkansas, and routinely carried defenders with them to put the Razorbacks on their back foot.
Texas Tech 34 – 31 Oklahoma
Opening the season with two conference losses didn’t leave many believing Texas Tech would beat Oklahoma. After all, the Sooners only lost one Red River match all of last season.
“It’s been a matter of just spending more time together,” Texas Tech Head Coach Phil Terrigno said of his team’s improved performance. “We have roughly seven to eight new starters depending on the lineup and it’s also my first year. So, we knew our play wasn’t necessarily going to flow well right away.”
After trading successful penalty kicks in the first 10 minutes of the match, the Red Raiders scored first-half tries by Elijah Richard and Nathan Hatton for a 15-10 advantage at the break. Oklahoma went on the offensive in the opening phases of the second half to retake the lead, 17-15. Texas Tech, meanwhile, got back to its structures and sent lock Alex Brown and forward reserve George Michael III beyond the end line within five minutes of each other for a 27-17 Red Raiders lead.
The Sooners responded with their own score, but another Tech reserve found the try zone, this time Zane Donald, to push its lead back to 10 points. The Sooners brought the game to within three points with a late try, and forced the Red Raiders to defend their slim lead for the final eight minutes of the game.
“It was somewhat crisp, but not perfect,” Terrigno said of his team’s defensive stance to close the match. “We had a forward pass and were called offsides at one point, but we managed to hold on. The line held and where there was a final scrum with no time remaining we won it and kicked the ball out.”
TCU 41 – 22 Houston
Houston’s first-ever Red River fixture went the way of TCU, 41-22. Inside of 10 minutes the teams each put an unconverted try on the board. The Horned Frogs would then score the next 24 points, including three tries by fly half Nick Larsen and another one from center Zach Trigg.
“I have watched Nick improve each week,” TCU Head Coach TeShay Flowers said of his fly half. “We have had a few ups and downs with him at fly, but he is getting better… He is developing at the right pace, and I have really enjoyed his rugby maturity.”
The Cougars, trailing, 29-5, refused to go down without a fight and dotted down twice between the 50th– and 55th-minute marks.
“Houston is a very physical side,” Flowers remarked. “Coach [Daniel] Whetzel has a lot of talent to work with. What we had this weekend was a squad taking their first steps in D1A. As the season goes on, I have a feeling they will have a few shockers.”
Like Houston, TCU wasn’t satisfied and received a fourth try by Larsen before Terrul Ratcliff bagged his second.
“I was very pleased with the team’s effort, but I know our next run out against LSU will be very tough,” said Flowers. “Fifteen players will not cut it against those boys.”
Texas A&M 37 – 5 Texas
No team in the Red River was playing better rugby at the tail end of the 2015-16 season than Texas A&M, and the Aggies seem to have taken their momentum from last year into this season with a convincing win over Texas to begin their conference season.
The Longhorns managed to answer Texas A&M’s initial score when eight man Reed Hogan tied the game at five-all in the 21st minute. Hogan’s try, however, would be Texas’ only points of the match.
Tries by scrum half Justin Brown and eight man Braeden Hood built a 17-5 lead at halftime for the Aggies. Early in the second half, Texas A&M brought half of its reserves onto the field and the team’s play didn’t skip a beat.
Ross Navarro and Connor Wilson found the try zone to put the game out of reach. Still, Brown went in for a second try and Sean McBain scored his first of the season to win the game, 37-5, and send a message to the rest of the Red River.