Texas Rugby Week 3: Ups and Downs

Texas Rugby was forced by bad weather postponements into a double header this weekend, so I'll do one writeup for both matches -- Horn Brain

One eighty-minute session of full-on contact at a dead run is plenty for most normal people, especially when that eighty minutes is against a ranked team.  It wasn't enough for the Longhorns this weekend, though, especially after their first game against #21 Sam Houston State became such a disappointment...

Texas 28 - #21 Sam Houston State 31

With time ticking down, Texas finally crossed the line after another brutal drive to go up 28-26 on a Sam Houston club that had befuddled their defense for most of the game.  With the two point margin and four... three... two minutes to play with the wind at their backs, Texas was feeling confident that they had finally reached the top of the escalator that was this game.

Neither side had had much success stopping the other on the day, with Sam dangling a three or four point carrot in front of the 'Horns for much of the contest, starting with a try after the first twelve minutes, most of which Sam spent inches from the Texas goal line.  Texas answered with their own try, but Sam stormed right back and crossed the line for their second and last try of the half.  The Longhorns managed to work themselves into good position towards the end of the half, though, and took advantage of their fullback's big leg to put in a penalty before the half, making the score 14-10 at the break.

When the teams returned for the second half, it was more trading.  Texas would score, Sam would match, and on and on.  It looked as if Texas wouldn't be able to catch up until they scored the try at the five minute mark, and then it looked like they had the game in hand.

But that's why they play the full eighty.  It may take several minutes and a lot of luck to orchestrate a scoring drive, from which UT was safe at that point, but it only takes a few seconds for a breakaway to change a game irreversibly.  Sam got an overload on the right side and one of their backs went charging down the field before being dragged down with just meters to go.  Sam had been in the same position earlier in the year against LSU, stalled on the goal line down a try, and had their game winner stolen from them by bad luck.  Bad luck would not strike twice this season for Sam, though, and they quickly supported at the tackle and plowed through for the winning try, putting Sam up for good, 31-28.

While the loss was a huge disappointment, especially the way the match slipped through their fingers, Texas had no time to wonder what-if, as A&M had just handed Tech a 31-17 defeat, and were waiting in College Station knowing that beating Texas was a must if they were to have a chance at making the playoffs.

Texas 20 - #7 Aggie 19

You read that correctly.  Texas went home after a disappointing match that they could have won, decided that it wasn't up to standard, woke up early for an 8 o'clock departure time to College Station, then proceeded to play the game of their collective lives against the #7 team in the country, according to American Rugby News.

While the finish was pretty, the beginning was far from it.  Texas ceded two quick tries to the Aggies and seemed to be in for another long day, but then the 'Horns got their nerves in check and settled in for a 70 minute work week after spotting the Aggies 14 quick points.  Usually, one mistake, much less two, is all it takes to lose a game against a Top 10 opponent, but the way the team wore the Burnt Orange and White today, it was A&M that needed to watch their backs.

Texas put on a hitting clinic for the game, eliminating many opportunities for the Aggies as they clawed their way back into the game one yard at a time.  When A&M did find a small overload or gap to exploit, Texas' pressure on the trigger man was too much, causing multiple errant passes and mistakes.  Thanks to the wind at their back in the first half, Texas' fly half was able to put on a kicking clinic as well - Giving the ball thorough crushings at each opportunity and setting up Texas with great field position for their forwards to smash the ball across the line for two tries, one converted, to tighten the score to 14-12 A&M at the half.

The second half started slowly, with both defenses denying any movement beyond kicking for a large chunk of the period.  In fact, the first score of the half would come on a mistake, rather than a play.  While A&M had been having penalty trouble, especially at the tackle, they had managed to keep most of the sloppy play out of the penalty goal range of Texas' fly half, or so they thought.  After a penalty in their own end, A&M prepared for a kick to touch or a quick tap-and-go from the 'Horns, but the coaches wanted the lead and screamed for the tee.  The Texas fly half didn't even stop for a second thought as he lined up a difficult kick into a stiff breeze that sailed through to give Texas a 15-14 advantage as the game entered its final stages.

Texas was looking to expand their lead with ten minutes left to play when A&M swiped a ball and made a great series of passes that kept the ball moving quickly deep into Texas territory before finally being slowed down in a tackle.  The Aggies made quick work of resetting their back line, though, and slipped one tackle to grab a four-point lead.

This is when the Texas side dug deep and proved that they had learned from their last-minute miscues against Tech and Sam Houston by staying cool and taking advantage of A&M's mistakes and their fly half's leg to earn a lineout at the Aggie five meter line with one minute to play.  One quick pick and pop later and Texas' hooker found himself belly down in A&M's end-goal scoring Texas' final points to put the 'Horns up 20-19.

A&M was not done, however, and mounted an almost terrifyingly-successful final drive to the Texas 22, where a last-ditch drop goal by the Aggie fly half was charged down and blocked in a clutch move by a Texas flanker.  Surprisingly, however, the block was recovered by the Aggies and play continued as they drove deeper and deeper into Texas territory, eventually reaching the five meter line.  Texas gutted out the goal line stand to end all stands, though, and eventually forced a moment of panic on the A&M attack sending an Aggie rucker in from the side to give Texas the ball on a penalty with time expired.  Fittingly, the match ended on an Aggie penalty, allowing Texas to boot the ball well into touch and bring on the final whistle, a sigh of relief from the Texas bench, and a groan of defeat from the Aggie side.

The game couldn't have been any more exciting, nor could it have been any more nerve-racking in its final minutes.  Texas walks away from this one with no second thoughts, and nothing to take away from a great victory over a tough opponent on their own field.  This win is for the seniors, who, no matter what happens against LSU, will go out with a win in the most important game of the season and can say that they beat the Aggies in the game of their lives on their way out.  Congratulations to the whole team for an absolutely excellent effort to come away with a win no one not in Burnt Orange thought possible!

Ruck 'em,
Maul 'em,
Hook 'em, 'Horns!

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