Gentlemen of Aspen suffer rude fate against Barbarians
It looked as if the Gentlemen of Aspen had pulled it off.With three minutes to play in Sunday’s Ruggerfest open-division final against the Denver Barbarians, a Gents player rumbled down the right sideline, passing back to a teammate who downed the ball in the end zone for what would’ve been the go-ahead score.Fans and players surrounding Wagner Park erupted in cheers. They would find out seconds later the play was called back on an Aspen obstruction penalty. The Barbarians calmly converted a long penalty kick to complete the 35-31 come-from-behind victory – their second in three years against Aspen.”It was an exciting game because of the score, but that call was costly,” Gents coach Mark Williams said. “The Barbos were an excellent team and I’m happy they won. They were driving well during the lineouts and played smart.”Before the Barbarians could even blink, they faced a 21-3 deficit early in the first half. Denver trailed 21-0 at the half in 2003’s open final and came back to win.Denver remained collected, capitalizing on multiple Gents penalties to reel off nine unanswered points to close out the half. The Barbarians converted from deep in Aspen’s zone on an offsides penalty, then elected to go for points instead of position in two successive tries from midfield. All 12 of the Barbos’ first-half points came on Aspen miscues.”When there are such well-matched teams, knowing when to take the points is almost always the difference,” Gents player Mark Wisroth said. “We played our best game, but they were just … better.”Denver, which was patient in the first, also waited for its chance to make an offensive charge early in the second. The Barbarians got that chance when they picked up a loose ball deep in the Gents’ zone and converted the try. The conversion cut the Aspen lead to 21-19.The Gents responded for the first time in close to 30 minutes, pushing across a hard-fought try of their own early in the second to give themselves some breathing room at 28-19.But the mistakes would cost Aspen dearly once again when, on the advantage, Denver pushed through a wall of Gents defenders for the try and the conversion.”I am nothing but happy with my boys and their effort, but we just gave away too many penalties,” Williams said. “The Barbos really knew what their strengths were.”The Gents had a strong opportunity to respond with a try, but were stymied on the goal line. They settled for a penalty kick a few plays later to give themselves a 31-26 lead midway through the second.On the strength of a stellar kicking game, the Barbarians elected for a penalty kick with 10 minutes to play, placing it right between the uprights. Soon after, on a restart, Denver caught Aspen by surprise with a well-executed drop kick to go ahead for the first time in the match, 32-31.With time ticking off, the once-rambunctious crowd now hung on every pass and kick.”It was a very clean game, and it seems like these two teams are always in the final,” Gents player Carlos Angelini said. “There was some controversy in the end, but we had our chances.”Aspen got just what it needed when Denver penalty set up a penalty kick attempt from just inside midfield. As all eyes fixed on the ball in the air, it fell just short. Five minutes remained.One minute later, as the winds picked up, another long penalty kick attempt from the left side sailed wide right.The Gents, who defeated the New Mexico Vatos, Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas City Blues Brothers to advance to the final, made one last impressive break for the end zone with less than two minutes remaining. The score was negated by yet another penalty.The Gents, in their 12th consecutive Ruggerfest final, watched the Barbarians take home the ceremonial mugs and the first-place trophy. There were bruises, scrapes and black eyes, but there were also smiles; Aspen knows there is a strong chance, if the past is any indication, that it will have an opportunity for redemption next year.The two teams have met in the open final seven of the last nine years. The Gents are 7-2 in those contests and avenged 2003’s loss to the Barbos last year.”We played undisciplined rugby at times today,” Wisroth said. “This is bittersweet for sure because we always want to win, but no one here can hang their heads.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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