Texas Rugby, Final Week: Oops, Spoiled It...

You could have guessed by the title of the diary, but Texas didn't manage a win over LSU today.  The Tigers put Texas' playoff hopes to rest with a 29-14 loss that was closer than the score shows.  I'll finish this series with a match report and a recap of a season that was just a few points from shocking the Texas Conference.

First Side Match:
Texas 14 - #11 LSU 29

Texas was up for this one.  Three days after beating the Aggies in College Station, the Longhorns got word from the league's governing body, the TRU, that Texas Tech had been forced to forfeit their tie with Texas due to an incidental rules violation.  This turn of events, coupled with an Aggie defeat of Sam Houston, meant that the Texas - LSU game would be the de facto conference championship game.  A win would send Texas to Dallas to participate in the first rounds of the national tournament.  The 'Horns prepared well for the visiting goliath, but in the end, luck was not on their side.

The game started with Texas receiving the opening kick with the wind at their backs, but the 'Horns quickly found themselves deep in their own territory and in trouble.  Despite overpowering LSU in the scrums as they had most of their opponents throughout the year, the Longhorns were plagued by the Tigers' scrumhalf, who did an excellent job of interfering with his Texan counterpart, stealing the ball as Texas tried to pass out to their backs several times, and forcing errant passes on others.  While Texas defended one of LSU's drives, the LSU halfback stole another ball off of a scrum, and a few phases later, an LSU back slipped a tackle and was in for a try.

Texas fought back quickly, though, and given the ball in LSU's end, the Longhorns relaxed a bit and put the pressure on the Tigers, eventually taking advantage of a quick tap on an LSU penalty to put the tying try over, which was then converted to give Texas a 7-5 advantage.

It was at this point in most matches where Texas' by now trademark team defense would force a stalemate for most of the rest of the half, but it was not to be.  Texas got away from the trusting, attacking defense that won them the game against the Aggies and each man tried to do too much.  The 'Horns missed tackles and spent a lot of time running backwards before the half, but managed to limit the damage to two more tries to go into the half down 17-7.

After the break, Texas came out ready to get back to the fundamentals.  Some of Texas' team leaders flew at LSU early, hitting hard and setting the tone for the rest of the match.  With the increased intensity, Texas quickly found itself in attacking position, eventually pounding out a try with their forwards as has been the norm.  The 'Horns again converted to tighten the game to 17-14 LSU, and the game was officially on the line.

LSU picked up some of the energy from the Longhorn side, though, and like a championship caliber team should do, they got stronger with Texas' punch in the mouth coming out of the half.  The quickness of the Tiger back line was too much for the 'Horns to hold back forever, though, and eventually a sweaty Texas hand slipped off of an LSU back's shorts, releasing him into the end-goal for the try that would put the match away with the Tigers up two scores, 22-14.

Texas mounted a serious comeback attempt, including one excellent run by the back line that covered around sixty meters, but the 'Horns felt the clock ticking away and allowed several turnovers when they tried to force one more pass or one more step closer to the goal-line.  LSU took advantage of the sense of worry that descended upon the Texas side to put over one more insurance try, and the game wilted away with the final 29-17 LSU.

Second Side Match:
Texas 7 - LSU 8

The second side contest was a slow grinder of a match that was close all the way, with neither side finding the end-goal until the second half.  Despite playing with several converted backs in their scrum, Texas had the upper hand for much of the game up front as the 'Horns tenacity and teamwork outmatched LSU's advantages in size and experience.

The Tigers scored first on a left-side overload, but the difficult kick went unconverted, and Texas felt no pressure, down just 5-0.  The 'Horns kept their cool and stuck to their game, pinning LSU in their own end with a strong kicking game, and when given a chance with possession, froze the LSU defense with a maul before slipping a pass to their rumbling prop, Garret Pesnell, who powered his way through two Tigers over the goal line for his first career try.  The 'Horns converted and assumed the lead 7-5.

LSU would stall their next drive around the Texas 22, and though the 'Horns showed no signs of allowing a score, they did commit a penalty directly in front of the posts, which LSU kicked for points, finalizing the scoring for the day at 8-7.  Texas tried desperately to move into position for a drop goal in the last five minutes, but were repeatedly denied by mistakes and bad luck as they knocked at the door but came just short.

Season Recap:
Texas:  3-2-0

There are no trophies won for effort, but there are countless movies, books, and Cinderella stories told of underdogs who didn't know that they were supposed to lose, and I'll be damned if I'm not going to write you another one about this Texas team that traded punches with some of the best teams in the country and brought respect back to a program to which no one gave a second thought.

The Longhorns were coming off a season that saw them go 2-3-0 with wins over Texas Tech and Sam Houston State, losing badly to the Aggies and the Tigers, as well as dropping an upset to a Rice squad that they had beaten soundly in a friendly game in the fall.  The 'Horns started the season with a solid revenge win over Rice, and when news came in about LSU taking down the favored Aggies, expectations for the team began to rise.  The optimism wasn't even derailed when Tech forced a tie on a ridiculous conversion kick.  Texas new that they had something good going this year, and while not getting a win against Tech would make it a tougher mountain to climb, they knew they still had a shot.

Then came the heartbreaking last-second loss to Sam, and Texas thought they had just seen their shot at a playoff appearance slip through their fingers.  There was no time for disappointment, though, as the big game against the Aggies had been rescheduled to the following day.  While some teams would have quit on the season and mailed in an effort in this game, the Longhorns knew what the game meant to the alumni and to the respect of the club, and performed accordingly.  In easily the marquee win of the season, the Longhorns stunned an Aggie team that was cruising towards the end of their season with a 20-19 victory that will set the standard for the Texas Rugby teams for years to come.

Watch this one.  It rules.  HT to Badger Denehy

After getting the news of Tech's forfeit, Texas found itself an unlikely title contender in a winner-take-all match against the Bayou Bengals.  While they came up short of making a miracle run to the playoffs, simply getting into that position is a solid step along the way.  What this team gave Texas is a sense of pride, and an idea of what it feels like to be in contention.  Next year the club will start the season with some real expectations, and they can thank this year's squad for that.

The story of Texas' success on the season follows the same pattern as a match report of one of their games:  Against bigger, faster opponents, the Longhorns played as a team, taking advantage of sloppy play from bigger teams and giving very little back to keep games close.  While the season ended on a down note, Texas knows that they came away just a few lucky bounces short of a trip to Westerns, and that they've earned the respect of their rivals in the conference.  These Longhorns may be small, but they sure are slow, and if you're looking to win a game from Texas, you're going to have to earn every yard of it.

If not, they'll gladly keep it.

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