Gents outgun Dallas
Showing flashes of brilliance at times on the offensive attack, and an alarmingly porous defense at other times, the Gentlemen of Aspen survived a shootout with the Dallas Harlequins, 49-33, on Saturday afternoon at Rio Grande Park in Aspen.
Trouble was, when Aspen wasn’t moving downhill toward the Dallas try-zone, Dallas had the Gents moving backward on defense. Aspen allowed just three total tries in their first two USA Rugby Super League victories, but against Dallas they conceded four as the Texans hung close until the end.
Veteran Aspen forward Tasi Mounga scored all three of Aspen’s tries in the first half, the last two of which broke open a 13-13 tie and gave Aspen control 30-13 – with two conversions and a 3-point penalty kick from flyhalf and kicker Brendan Walsh – at halftime. The 17-point margin proved enough to keep Dallas at bay in the final 40 minutes, as Dallas added 20 points to Aspen’s 19.
“We’re a team that can score some points when we do things correctly,” first-year Aspen coach Mick Melrose said. “And when we do things well, there’s not a lot of teams that I’ve seen so far that can stop us.
“But we haven’t polished it yet,” continued Melrose of the 3-0 Gents. “I’m more concerned that we let in 30-some points. That’s a major concern.
“It’s promising that we can put up so many points but how many points is a really good team gonna put up on us?”
Said coach Mark McCloy of the 1-2 Harlequins: “We had a chance to beat ’em but we made three mistakes and I think those mistakes cost us the game. Hopefully, we’ll get ’em at sea level in the playoffs.”
Aspen’s Mounga put Aspen on the scoreboard first with a try in the 2nd minute. With a Walsh conversion and a 3-point penalty kick in the 7th minute, Aspen dashed to an early 10-0 lead.
But Dallas answered in the 12th with a Scott McCarthy penalty kick, then a Brendon Tempelmeyer try in the 25th to even the score at 10 all. Dallas went up 13-10 in the 27th on another McCarthy penalty kick, but Walsh evened the score at 13 on another penalty kick in the 30th.
That’s when Aspen’s offense kicked into another gear.
Walsh, a former player under Melrose for the Manly, Australia, side, could be heard from the sidelines shouting at his teammates as they waited for the ensuing kickoff from Dallas.
“Time to muscle up boys,” he cried. “No passengers.”
Aspen took possession near their own try line and put together an end-to-end offensive, utilizing both forward power and back-line rushes, retaining the ball and regrouping after several rucks.
Mounga capped off the movement with a try in the 31st minute to put Aspen up 20-13, with a conversion from Walsh.
Dallas again kicked off to Aspen, and again Aspen mounted another sweet 100-meter offensive that yielded another Mounga try (and Walsh conversion) to give Aspen its first comfortable lead, 27-13. Aspen newcomer Nick Gregorski helped power the score with a nice, Harlequin-hauling run before dishing off to an open teammate.
Before halftime, Walsh added another penalty kick to lift Aspen to a 30-13 lead.
“Once again, it’s a game where we played some good football – in places,” Walsh said later. “But we’ve got plenty to work on.”
The two Mounga tries late in the second half, Walsh said, “pretty much won it for us.”
“Today was put up or shut up – pretenders or contenders,” he continued. “I think we stood up and put notice out that we’re not just gonna beat weaker teams.”
Dallas’ McCarthy added another 3-point penalty kick in the 47th minute to open the second-half scoring, but Aspen responded in the 49th with another well-orchestrated drive toward the Dallas try zone.
Wing Albert Tuipulotu touched off the scoring piece with a nice run, then passed off to Mounga who churned upfield before finding flanker Sean Maguire with room to run. Maguire powered through Harlequin defenders, diving over the try line for a score to put Aspen up 37-16 with another Walsh conversion.
But the “Big D” was not finished.
In the 52nd, Dallas’ Manny Garcia ran in the first of his two tries.
Gents vet Rata Going answered in the 60th, taking a backdoor pass from Walsh against the grain of the overpursuing Dallas back-line defenders for his first try of the day, to give Aspen a 44-23 lead.
Garcia then scored his second try of the day in the 64th and Dallas’ Brett Pederson added another in the 74th to cut the deficit to 44-33 with about six minutes to play. Both tries found the men uncovered in the back line for easy, uncontested scores.
Aspen’s Tuipulotu sealed the win with a last-minute try, a dash set up by another strong, punishing run by Gregorski. Walsh, who had converted all five after-try kicks earlier, finally missed.
“If they hadn’t scored at the end, and we had, it would’ve made it very interesting,” said McCloy, the Dallas coach. “But we’re a very young side and I was very, very happy with our play.”
Said Aspen’s Mounga: “We’ve got different guys in the lineup each week, but we’re doing OK. A little sloppy in places and credit to Dallas, too. They’re a good team.”
Coach Melrose credited his front row – props Flint Davidson and Steve Harkin, and hooker Josh Porter – with top performances.
The Gents have this weekend off. On April 17, they resume Super League play against the Kansas City Blues in Aspen.
“Dallas is the strongest opposition we’ve seen yet, but that trend is only going to continue,” Melrose said. “We can’t continue to be breaking down on defense and giving teams easy tries. We just can’t continue to do that.”
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Now 40 years old, the downhill racer from Utah is still speeding along with no plans of slowing down anytime soon. Sure, his back sometimes aches but it’s not enough to deter him from chasing after the feeling of a perfect race.