HOUSTON–New Mexico Tech’s men’s rugby team weathered a gusting headwind in the first half, then used the Texas gale and a stingy defense to its advantage over the final 40 minutes to advance 28-21 past No. 2 St. Johns (Minn.) Friday at the National Collegiate Rugby Final Four at Aveva Stadium.
The third-ranked Miners (9-0) face No. 1 Christendom College (11-1) for the small college national championship Sunday at noon MT. Christendom beat Holy Cross 44-34 to advance to the championship match.
“If I’m being honest it hasn’t sunk in yet,” Miners coach Gearoid Dunbar said. “This is a really big deal for the university. A massive deal. That makes me very proud to be the coach.”
After falling behind 7-0, New Mexico Tech managed a pair of scores in the first half in spite of a 30-50 mph headwind that sent passes flying off target. Nikolas Crosato and Nick Hutt scored the two first-half tries for NMT, with Milaan Van Wik adding the two-point kicks for each.
A 52nd minute turnover by St. Johns deep in its own half led to a Willie Uhrle try just a minute later from five meters out to make the score 26-14 NMT. Van Wik’s kick pushed NMT’s lead to 14 at 28-14.
St. Johns had three possessions inside of the NMT 5-meter line in the final five minutes but was turned away each time.
“We’re always looking for what we have to improve on. It doesn’t matter the game,” Dunbar said. “We didn’t play well today. We always want to be playing our best, whether it’s at the National Championship or if it was at home playing a friendly. We have a lot of film to watch (before Sunday’s championship game) and a lot of mistakes to correct.”