Gentlemen win Ruggerfest in style | News

Assisted by the “old boys” from the glory days of the Aspen Knights, the current team returned to its mighty self with its first consecutive Ruggerfest since 2009, the last national knight championship.

The current Gents defeated the American Raptors 45-39 on the strength of a dramatic comeback, entering the second half trailing by 12 points, 22-10. Aspen scored an unanswered 35 points, bringing out the fans lining Wagner Park who may have begun to doubt the Gents’ chances after the first 40 minutes, even if the team never did. It seems that the comeback is in fashion for the Gents, said coach and player Ben Mitchell.

“We have a bit of a tradition where we like to play in the [northwest] corner in the second half. I don’t know, there’s something about playing with the fans in the second half that lifts us up,” Mitchell said. “I’ve won three Ruggerfests now, and all three have come from behind.”

The Gents started the game with a quick drop-kick, but the Raptors responded almost immediately with the game’s first down and subsequent conversion. His own drop-kick touchdown and another attempt soon after, and the Gents were facing a multi-touchdown deficit. The Raptors added another try to bring their tally to 22 earlier, in the closing moments of the half, the Gents huddled at the goal line, and Mitchell was ultimately the one to push the ball forward and down.

After another Raptors drop-kick score to open the second half, Mitchell was once again the one to make his way into the end zone, igniting the Gents’ pivotal rally.

“It lifts us [when Ben plays]. Pick up the smaller kids,” said Gentleman’s Brad Hemepo. “We probably have six pro players in our first eight, and having that experience with the guys helps make them better as well.”

Aspen used the downhill lead, as well as some Raptors mistakes, to get the momentum going for them. The Gents forced the ball down the pitch and twice drew yellow cards from the opposition, scoring soon after with both men going ahead.

Hemopo was the ultimate beneficiary in two scoring drives, the culmination of Gents’ hard work near the goal line to hold the line and the ball until a seam opened.

“We stood behind our processes, we knew we had a strong beat,” said Hemopo. “We knew we had the strongest scrum in the tournament. We had the strongest lineout of the tournament. We knew we just needed to go and change the momentum. Once we had momentum, it was hard to stop.”

At the end of the scoring spree, Aspen held a commanding 20-point lead with only about 10 minutes left to play.

Towards the end of the competition, the Raptors, made up of high-caliber athletes from other sports, including former professional and college players, and based in Glendale, a suburb of Denver, began to show their own athleticism with evasive runs, hitting punishment. and smart, sharp shocks. They scored two tries just two minutes apart, converting both shots to get back within a possession before a late stand before the final whistle that secured victory for the Gents.

It is the club’s 23rd overall win at Ruggerfest, in its 54th iteration. This came 25 years after another second straight victory at Ruggerfest in 1997, the first year the Gents won a national championship, taking two.

As many team members returned to Aspen to celebrate the quarter-century anniversary, today’s Gents took home another Ruggerfest trophy.

“There are so many old guys, so many people who have played for the club or been a part of the club,” Mitchell said. “It means as much to them as it does to us. … It means everything (having them here). There is a real sense of history at the club, one of the most historic and well-known clubs in the country. It’s huge.”

In 2023, Aspen will be looking for its first hat-trick since 2009, the last year of four consecutive Ruggerfest title wins.