Yes, the Zoomies were a little rusty this past weekend down in Arizona playing PAC conference’s Arizona State. But…the Zoomies found their form and were able to own the second half to score the comeback victory. Since the Air Force Academy plays its main conference season during the fall many of our cadet ruggers haven’t had any game time since the end of the season in mid-November. Two glaring exceptions were seniors Mitch Cochell and Dylan Brown as both were invited to the All-American Identification Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA in January and got to experience competition against some of the country’s best rugby players.
Saturday’s match started off relatively even with the Sun Devils striking early with a converted try and the Zoomies answering back with a try of their own, albeit unconverted. Colin Culver was able to break free down the sideline and dot it down to bring the score to 7-5 Arizona State. Arizona State responded quickly and was able to slot a penalty kick through to make the score 10-5. Hunter Hancock, coming off a bad ankle break at the start of the fall, proved he was back in top form as he broke some tackles and dotted down his own try to tie the game. Unfortunately, the Zoomies failed to take the lead as another conversion was missed to keep the match locked up at 10-10.
The latter part of the first half was very difficult for the Zoomie squad as AF gave a hungry ASU team too much territory by conceding too many penalties and making too many mistakes defensively. The Sun Devils made the Zoomies pay for those mistakes by scoring three converted tries before the half. Service Academy teams are known for never quitting and the Zoomies were able to motivate themselves to fix the glitches and came out strong in the second half.
With the defensive alignment in check and the ball handling errors decreased, the Zoomies picked up steam very quickly. Senior Dalton Welch started off the scoring for the Zoomies with a line break at the start of the second half and Elliot Higgins was able to convert the try to bring the score to 17-31 ASU. ASU was able to establish a drive into AF territory and win a penalty allowing for another three points off of a penalty kick to bring the score to 17-34 ASU. In the 62nd minute outstanding first-year player and junior forward Austin Lyons continued his hard play this season and drove through for a try which was also converted by Elliot Higgins to bring the score to 24-34. Sophomore Elliot Higgins also found pay dirt through tough play of his own and was able to convert his own try with only five minutes remaining to bring the score to 31-34 ASU. At this point Air Force was running down hill and the altitude training in the cold weather paid off for our players in the beautiful Arizona conditions. Another first year player and impact substitution in the back line, junior Michael Mechikoff, scored his first A-side try during the last minute of the match to put Air Force ahead of ASU 36-34. With the conversion missed there was very little time remaining after the referee restart and the Air Force walks away with the come-from-behind victory to start off the spring season.
Air Force has arguably one of the toughest D1A spring schedules in the country with upcoming matches against #3 St. Mary’s (last year’s national championship runners-up) on 4 February, #6 Lindenwood on 11 February, #4 BYU (Varsity Cup tournament runners-up) on 25 February and #14 Arizona on 4 March at the Las Vegas Invitational.