Photo by Matt Stensland
Steamboat Springs rugby team flanker Erik Wernig catches a ball from a line-out Saturday at Gardner Field. Steamboat beat Aspen, 20-17.
Steamboat Springs In last summer's remarkable 15-1 campaign, the Steamboat Springs Rugby club accomplished plenty it never had before. High on the list was a victory over rival Aspen.
Still, Steamboat captain Michael Hurley said he knew in the back of his mind that the win hadn't been everything he'd hoped for.
"To be honest, it wasn't a full-strength Aspen team. We won, but we knew that wasn't a full Aspen team," Hurley said.
The Aspen squad Steamboat edged out, 20-17, Saturday at Steamboat Springs High School's Gardner Field, however, was an entirely different story.
"This was the most gutsy win I've ever had since joining the team," Hurley said. "Even though we won last year, we knew it wasn't a true Aspen side. Today, we beat a true Aspen rugby team."
Steamboat won but didn't make it easy on the roughly 50 fans who showed up. The home team gave away an early 7-0 lead when Aspen converted a long run and a successful kick into a tie game.
Steamboat wasted little time responding. A long run was made even better by a quick relay and within two minutes of succumbing to a tie game, Steamboat went back ahead, this time for good, when Able Varney bulled his way in for a score.
Steamboat's Calum Blackwood converted the kick, two of the 10 points he provided the team with his foot.
In addition to a pair of successful conversions, he nailed two key penalty kicks late in the second half to maintain the thin edge on Aspen.
"They say kicking wins games," Blackwood said. "When you're kicking, you have to get it done. You're either the hero or the villain."
Aspen made the game close in the waning minutes. Freddy Waititi cut through the middle of the Steamboat side, slashing his way 15 yards for a late score as Aspen pulled within three.
It wasn't enough, however, and Steamboat was thrilled to take its first win of the season, especially after a disheartening loss to Vail last week.
"We were gutted after last week," Blackwood said. "We wanted to be a lot more patient after last week, and we tried not to rush things, and it worked."