By Tim Pickwell
The San Diego Mustangs Rugby Club U18 players packed on the ice, adjusted their slings and bandages, and heaved a sigh of relief on Saturday, April 6, at about 11:30 a.m. as they limped off of Dusty Rhodes Field in Ocean Beach.
They had just completed two brutal matches in less than 24 hours. And, although battered, they were 2-0 for the weekend, and 6-0 for the season.
Things started Friday afternoon at UC San Diego, as Northern California athletic powerhouse Concord De La Salle High School came to town. De La Salle is playing the toughest high school rugby schedule in America. Before the April 5 match against the Mustangs, the Spartans had lost only to Cathedral Catholic (#25 in Rugby Mag’s HS Boys Rankings) and Dixon (#5) — by a combined total of 5 points. On Tuesday, April 2, De La Salle upset No. 1 ranked Xavier Prep (NY), 29-17, in a match played in the East Bay. Fresh off that victory, the Spartans went barnstorming to San Diego to face the 19th ranked, undefeated Mustangs U19 Club, which trains and plays in Carmel Valley.
De La Salle had the size up-front, and the Mustang starting ranks were thinned a bit by local school Spring Breaks.
Two minutes into the match, De La Salle punted deep to Mustang #10 Alec Mills, who pitched wide to Inside Center Chase Pickwell, who did a quick flip to HS All-American Billy Maggs (#13). 40 meters later, Maggs was in and San Diego was up. The Mills kick was good.
De La Salle then pinned the Mustangs against their own try line and attempted to score. For the next 8 minutes the two squads waged as desperate a battle as you’ll see on the pitch, with the lighter San Diego defenders like Grant McGahey (#1) and Dean Karam (#4) ganging up to turn aside every Spartan effort. Pickwell finally killed the attempt with a body check tackle that loosened some teeth and turned the ball over to the Mustangs.
The Mustangs then proceeded to feed the ball to their superior backline, and used speed and ball handling skills to run the score to 31-0, before De La Salle managed two scores to make the final 43-12.
The Mustangs were feeling the effects of the De La Salle game as they gathered less than 14 hours later at Dusty Rhodes Park in Ocean Beach to face the San Diego Young Aztecs.
Several Mustangs had left for Spring Break, and others (Billy Maggs) rested injuries from the night before. When the Aztec match started, the Mustangs started dropping like flies with three starters (Bernardo Olivas, Grant McGahey, and Chase Pickwell) leaving with ankle, leg or shoulder injuries, although Pickwell shifted from center to wing and played with one arm until late in the second half due to the lack of subs.
Mustang Mac Entwistle led the team with one try in the first half, and the team relied on a patient tactical game as kicker Alec Mills had three penalty kicks in the first half. 16-0, Mustangs. As the second half started, Entwistle chased down a kick for a try, and fullback Jake Goena scored another try to run the score to 28-0.
A 40-minute injury time-out for an Aztec player caused the Mustangs to get cold, however, and more subs came in to replace dinged-up starters. The Aztecs took advantage and scored 17 points before the Mustangs shut them down to end the game, 28-17.
The Mustang coaches were not entirely pleased with either the team effort or composure late in the game. But, they considered it an important test for Elkhart, Indiana, where the Mustangs are headed in mid-May to compete for the National Championship.
“We’re going to have to play three games in three days,” assistant Coach Dan Dorsey told the team. “Who you are as men, who you are as players, will determine how you behave, and how you comport yourself. We will have to learn to play tired, with injuries, out of position, and not at full strength.”