Over-35 Gents keep Misfits in check
ASPEN ” A kick sailed out of bounds Sunday at Wagner Park during the opening minutes of the Ruggerfest’s over-35 final and hit a hanging extension cord, knocking out the power in the announcer’s booth.
Not that a play by play was needed.
There wasn’t much offense to talk about in a bruising defensive-minded match between the Gentlemen of Aspen’s Old Boys and the Colorado Misfits, a select side made up of players from all across the country.
Aspen traded penalties, missed kicks and field position with the Misfits, but not many points in a 17-10 win in which the Gents’ stiff defense proved to be the difference.
After falling behind twice, Aspen took the lead for good late in the second half when Jason Walker broke out of a scrum and rumbled in for a try to put Aspen up, 12-10.
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With former Gents coach, captain and ace kicker Mark Willliams nursing a sore hamstring, Scotty Davis filled in admirably, booting the ensuing conversion to put Aspen up, 14-10, then adding a late penalty kick to seal the win.
“That’s what you live for, getting a shot to kick in a close game,” a depleted Davis said afterward. “Just getting a chance to help your team.”
While Davis did his part, it was a collective effort on defense that made his kicks hold up on the scoreboard.
The Misfits looked to have a sure five points in the first half after driving to within yards of Aspen’s try line, but veteran lock Alec Parker made a head-ups play to turn back the tide. Parker astutely stole the ball from a charging Misfits player who was carrying it loosely, then passed off to teammate Chris Morrow who cleared the ball with a booming kick.
Minutes later, the Misfits broke a scoreless tie with a penalty kick, but the missed opportunity caught up to them. On its ensuing possession, Aspen’s Matthew Blouin took a pass from Brian Hightower, shook free from a tackler, then went untouched for Aspen’s first try.
Following a Davis conversion, the half ended with Aspen leading, 7-3.
Misfits fullback Lance Vesely put his team back up at the start of the second half with a try, followed by a Nelo Lui conversion.
With a 10-7 lead and the momentum, the Misfits seemed on the verge of breaking the game open when they had another push downfield, but Aspen again came up with a stand at its own try line.
That stop and the one in the first half, coupled with three missed penalty kicks proved to be too much to overcome for the Misfits. After Walter scored Aspen’s second try, the Misfits were unable to mount another serious offensive threat in a match that got chippy near the end.
“All those were momentum changers,” said Misfits captain Mike “Whitey” Nelson. “Just those penalty kicks alone, that’s nine points in a game we lost 17-10. In the first half, we were going downfield, and we needed that try. That [stop] was huge.”
“All those stops showed the heart of these guys,” Davis said. “We’ve been together for a long time. When it came right down to it, that’s just all about heart. Sticking your body in there and making the tackle and keeping them off the line. We sucked it up and did it.”
The win amounted to one more championship to add to the long list of titles won by the majority of the players making up Aspen’s team. Gents’ captain Brian Hightower said nearly all of the players who took the field Sunday were members of some of the Aspen teams that won seven national titles between 1997 and 2002 while competing in the national Super League, USA Rugby’s top division, and later, the combined USA Rugby Super League.
“This is a pretty special time,” Hightower said. “A lot of players committed to come out and play from the late ’90s when we were kind of in our heyday. It’s good to recreate some of the old feelings that we had in the old days when we were holding up national championship trophies. I’ve looked forward to this for months. It was almost a national championship reunion team.”
Considering the competition, Nelson said he was proud of his side for meshing together over one weekend to challenge Aspen for the title on its home pitch. The Misfits’ run to the final included a win over the defending champion Kansas City Blues.
“We couldn’t be more proud,” Nelson said. “Everyone came together, our injuries were down and we played great. We gave everyone the matchup they wanted to see in the finals.”
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The Basalt High School cross country team traveled to California this past week to compete in the 2021 Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, hosted by Woodbridge High School just outside of Los Angeles. The race was held at the SilverLakes Sports Complex in Norco.