‘If I wasn’t aching and bloody, this just wouldn’t feel so good’
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Simon Dogbe spoke softly as he dabbed blood from the base of his visibly deformed nose.
“I got it broken in practice. It was jetting one way, and now it’s jetting the other way,” the Gentlemen of Aspen wing said with a grin. “But if I wasn’t aching and bloody, this just wouldn’t feel so good.”
Judging from the limps, black eyes and bloody jerseys that abounded after Sunday’s open division Ruggerfest final, Dogbe’s teammates could feel his pain ” and his joy. The Gents’ stout defense and timely passing helped overcome multiple costly penalties as Aspen beat the Denver Barbarians 18-9 in a physical 80-minute bout.
The win was the Gents’ third straight title and 11th in 13 years.
“It was a fight. That championship game could’ve gone either way,” said Merritt Johnson, sporting a fresh black eye. “The Barbos put up a huge fight and tested us everywhere.”
That test began seconds after kickoff as both defenses shut off passing lanes and made advancing the ball a formidable task. Aspen took advantage of a Denver offsides call to jump out to a 3-0 lead off a Spencer Scott penalty kick from about 10 yards out midway through the first half.
The lead was short-lived, as a similar gaffe by the Gents led to a Barbos penalty kick a few minutes later. Denver went for the points instead of possession deep in Aspen’s end.
“They dominated the scrums and outweighed us heavily,” Gents coach Fred Waititi said. “We knew we needed to take advantage of every opportunity we got. We knew [the openings] weren’t going to come easily or often.”
The first opportunity for Aspen to swing the ball out wide and utilize its speed on the edges came in the 30th minute. Fullback Kai Beech soared in a crowd to corral a loose ball and passed off to a teammate, who in turn found Johnson up the right sideline. Johnson did the rest, sprinting nearly 70 yards untouched for the game’s first try to put the Gents ahead, 10-3.
“I knew I had space, and I knew I needed to go,” Johnson said.
He attempted to thwart a Barbos run up the sideline three minutes later, but a Denver center slipped through Johnson’s arm tackle, then spun by another Gents player before being dropped a few yards from the try line. The Barbos took advantage of the rare possession deep in Aspen’s end, connecting on a second penalty kick one minute before the half.
Beech was penalized with a yellow card on the play and was relegated to the sidelines. The Gents played a man down for a total of 20 minutes in the match.
“It’s tough, it puts a lot of pressure on everyone else,” Waititi said. “There was a lot of fatiguing. After yesterday’s effort, it took a long time for the guys to get warmed up today.”
The Gents managed to keep the Barbos at bay during the penalty. Soon after getting back to full strength early in the second, Aspen found a rare opening and a chance to extend its lead. Alec Parker scooped up a loose ball, bobbled it for three or four steps, then bulled his way upfield. When a Denver player closed and tried to pull him down by one arm, Parker lobbed a pass out to Dogbe, who sprinted 30 yards for the try. The play stretched Aspen’s lead to 15-6 as Scott’s attempted conversion sailed wide.
“We were confident if we could get the forwards to get the backs the ball,” Dogbe said. “[The forwards] do the hard work. It was nice to look up and see no one in front of me.”
Scoring chances for the host team were sparse down the stretch as penalties hampered the match’s flow and Denver increased its pressure in an attempt to pull closer.
The Barbos pulled to within six after a penalty kick with 15 minutes to play. A few minutes later, they moved the ball deep into Aspen’s end and attempted to employ their size advantage up front to push the pile past the try line.
But the Gents defense, much like it did all afternoon, stood tall.
“I was always confident the defense could hold up,” Waititi said. “Our defense was under pressure in the scrums, but they never really cracked through us.”
“There was never a time to let up and relax,” Dogbe added.
At least not until Scott pushed the advantage to nine with less than five minutes to play when he split the uprights after a Denver offsides penalty.
The Barbos made one last push, but, as one player’s drop kick sailed out of reach of a diving teammate in the far corner, the final whistle blew. Fans and reserves spilled onto the pitch. Gents players ” battered, bruised and exhausted ” exchanged congratulations.
Waititi said Wednesday that if his team didn’t gel this weekend, they’d be history.
Now, they’ve made history.
“We exceeded my expectations,” Waititi said. “We knew it was going to be tough against a class side, and we showed some character to get through it.”
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