PENDLETON - The Pendleton Sasquatch Rugby Club wasted no time in establishing home-field advantage in its first-ever rugby match at Pendleton Community Park Saturday.
Against a more experienced McMinnville squad, the Sasquatch struck first when Lucas Dougherty took the ball in for a try and Drake Contor followed with the conversion. In the next 10 minutes, Contor added another try, followed by a try from Vince Lewis with a Contor conversion to make it 20-0.
McMinnville came back to win 37-36, but the Sasquatch gained a lot of good experience and confidence in the game.
"We are feeling pretty good about ourselves because we are running all over the McMinnville side, and we are hitting hard and causing turnovers," Sasquatch coach Eric Gabriel said in an e-mail to the East Oregonian.
After taking the lead into halftime 20-17, the Sasquatch opened the second half with a quick score by Jeremy Henderson, followed by another Contor conversion.
Not wanting to let the new guy on the block get his first win against them, McMinnville brought their most experienced players into the game for most of the second half and pounded their way to a 27-26 lead.
The Sasquatch wouldn't be intimidated, though, and with eight minutes to play Contor stripped the ball and took it half the length of the pitch for the go-ahead try, 31-27.
McMinnville bounced right back to regain the lead but the Sasquatch's Henderson got his second try of the half with three minutes left in the game to go up 36-32. McMinnville placed the ball back in the bread basket of their biggest player and despite Pendleton's efforts they could not keep him from crossing the goal line.
The Sasquatch tried desperately to score once more in the final minute but a penalty finished off the final few ticks.
"For those that saw this match and those that played in it know quite well that the score was by no way a representation of how the match was played," Gabriel said. "Sure there were a lot of coulda, woulda, shoulda's, but our backs ran hard, fast and punished defenders the whole game and when the backs were playing defense ... they were laying people out."
Gabriel also was happy with the play of his wings, Jeff Murphy and Jeremy Henderson, who he called "Thunder" and "Lightning."
"With Jeff Murphy ... we have 'Thunder' the way he carries that ball with two hands tucked up into his chest running like a football fullback," Gabriel said. "He is not a big guy, but tacklers were just bouncing off of him.
"Then we have Jeremy Henderson ... . Who knew you could run so fast and not look scared doing it? I am not sure how many defenders had perfect hits on him and then just slipped off."
Gabriel added the forwards continue to improve and had a great match by winning nearly every scrum, led by hooker Brennan Pedroza.
Gabriel said props Michael Imhoff and Dean Crosgrove were dishing out some punishment and appeared to be having a great time doing it.
He said several players looked good in limited action, including Dillon Llytsell.
"(He is) probably one of the fastest forwards in the state in one direction," Gabriel said, adding he earned the nickname "Taz" for his reckless abandon on the field. "It was the funniest thing, I tell him I want the ball back and he would go get the ball. Once he learns this game, my goodness he will be scary."