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Aztecs draw mixed results in Fort Worth

Rocky Mountain Highs and Lows

Aztecs draw mixed results in Fort Worth

Fresh off their Southern California Championship, the San Diego Old Aztecs flew into Fort Worth, TX, for the Western National Finals and Elite 8. The Old Aztec side added to their frequent flier miles, as the semi-finals marked the 7th weekend away from Robb Field in the last 8 weeks. Additionally, while teams from every other region in the country allotted their champions a weekend bye before Nationals, the Southern California Rugby Football Union chose to further challenge their champions by holding the So Cal finals a mere week before semi’s.

Undeterred, the Old Aztecs roamed the desert heat looking to secure two wins and a chance to play in the National Championship. The Southern California side was certainly in for a culture shock, as the Texas plains lived up to their famous reputation of nothing but steers and Connor Mariani.

Although the team enjoyed all the local offerings of the Dallas Fort Worth area, including a team dinner at locally renowned Texas Roadhouse, inside the team hotel was all business. At Saturday’s morning’s team meeting in the conference room, Head Coach Jarrod Faul reminded the team of their pre-season goals, the top one of which was to win a National Championship. However, he also reminded them of their key message for the year, one initially foreign to the US members of the club, and that was “Mateship”.

Webster’s Dictionary defines Mateship as “Results not Found” Australian-born Tim Howard defines Mateship as “Just going all out for your mates, yeah. You’re all a bunch a’ beauties, and ya just gotta harden up and play for each other. Bloody hell.” As confused as the Aztecs were by the definition, it had become a rallying cry for a team that was just hitting its stride at the right time. The Old Aztecs would certainly need to rely on each other as they geared up to play a tough San Antonio side on Saturday.

Saturday’s match against San Antonio RFC lived up to the hype of a semi-final as the Aztecs hopped out to a quick lead with a try in the opening minutes, only to see the lead evaporate into a 14-point halftime deficit. At the half, the Aztecs were not panicked, along with the prospect of now having the wind at their back, it was Howard who reminded them of the Mateship it would require to complete the comeback in Fort Worth.

Obviously inspired by Howard’s halftime heroics, the Old Aztecs wasted no time in igniting the ferocious comeback as they scored off the opening kickoff of the 2nd half. It was two blistering tries from speedster Hunter Carter-Rimbach, the first of which was collected from a beautifully weighted Howard chip. Howard would not put a foot wrong with the boot all day, until his left bicep had enough, and detached itself from its tendon. When asked how the concept of Mateship inspired him, Carter-Rimbach replied, “Ohh that’s what he meant. I thought he was talking about an old, old wooden ship.”

With the wind at their backs, the Aztecs and the USS Mateship could not be stopped, as the San Diego side opened the 2nd half with 31 unanswered points. The Old Aztec backline lit up the scoreboard (as well as several San Antonio defenders) in perhaps the Aztecs’ best half of rugby all season. When the final whistle blew, the OAs were victorious with a final score of 45-35.

View the ‘Connor Smash’

There was little time for celebration, however, as Coach Faul immediately switched his team’s focus to Sunday’s Western Championship match, just 24 hours away. Faul, always a stickler for a good schedule, immediately refocused the team on recovery and preparation. Besides the usual methods of ice baths and film study, Faul also experimented with the unorthodox technique of starving his players. Though the approach drew mixed reviews the Old Aztecs were, nonetheless, focused on the task at hand. The evening fast allowed some Old Aztecs to reflect on the storied history of  the club. Elder-statesman Eric “E-Roc” / ”Ched”/ “Cheddy-wop” / “The Dog-Faced-Spider” Pray, reflected on the club’s 3 Final Four experiences in the last decade. “It’s impressive, really” Pray lamented, “The competition is always a moving target. Whether it‘s D-I or D-DI or PRQP or whatever the hell they’re calling themselves these days, it doesn’t matter. You need to be the best team that you can be, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Sunday’s opponent was the Denver Barbarians. A storied club in their own right, the OAs knew this would be no easy test. Perhaps invigorated by their morning pool activation session, the OAs jumped out to a quick 14-point lead. The double-digit lead was short lived, however, as the lighting quick Denver backline responded with a try of their own, making the score 14-5 only 17 minutes in.

The first half was hotly contested, and the Old Aztecs went into half with 19-17 lead. Early in the second half, an extremely controversial call saw OA halfback Sione Letoi set to the Sin-Bin with a yellow card. The Denver backline was able to exploit the overload, and a quick barrage of tries would prove to be too much for the Aztecs to overcome. The second half was all Barbarians, as they ultimately ran away with the game to the tune of 60-24.

Although the Old Aztecs were disappointed by the final result, they were able to walk off the field with their heads held high. It was another successful campaign in the 40th season of the small club from Ocean Beach, San Diego. The Aztecs left the field together, each and every player a little closer to their “mates”. Walking off the field tighthead, prop John-Boy Guerrero could be overheard saying, “There’s always next year….”

~Joe Ramonas~

*Editors note: Congratulations to the Denver Barbarians, as they beat the Detroit Tradesmen in dramatic fashion, 39-38, to claim the Men’s Division II Club National Championship. Read more at https://www.usarugby.org/2018/06/jubilation-for-the-denver-barbarians-heartbreak-for-the-detroit-tradesmen/