Gents win Ruggerfest in comeback fashion | News

With the “old boys” of the Gentlemen of Aspen glory days in attendance, the current team got back to its powerhouse ways with its first consecutive Ruggerfest since 2009 — the last Gents national championship.

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

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

The Gents started the game with a quick drop-kick score, but the Raptors responded almost immediately with the first try of the game and the ensuing conversion. Their own drop-kick score and another try shortly later, and the Gents were staring down a multiple-score deficit. The Raptors added another try to run their tally up to 22 before — in the closing moments of the half — the Gents dogpiled on the goal line, with Mitchell eventually being the one to push the ball across and down.

After another Raptors drop-kick score to open the second half, Mitchell once again was the one to break through to the goal area, igniting the pivotal Gents rally.

“It lifts us [when Ben plays]. It lifts the younger boys,” Gentleman player Brad Hemepo said. “We have probably six professional players in our first eight, and having that experience around the boys lifts them to be better as well.”

Aspen used the downhill advantage as well as some mistakes by the Raptors to get the momentum in their favor. The Gents forced the ball down the field and twice drew yellow cards from the opposition, scoring shortly after on both man advantages.

Hemopo was the final beneficiary on two scoring drives, the culmination of hard work by the Gents down near the goal line to hold the line and the ball until a seam opened up.

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

By the end of the scoring spree, Aspen had a commanding 20-point lead with just around 10 minutes to play.

Toward the end of the contest, the Raptors — composed of high-caliber athletes from other sports, including former pros and college players, and based out of Glendale, a suburb of Denver — began to show their own athleticism with evasive runs, punishing hits and clever, sharp offloads. They scored two tries just two minutes apart, converting on both kicks to get back within one possession before a final stand before the final whistle clinched the win for the Gents.

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

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

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

In 2023, Aspen will go for its first three-peat since 2009, the last year of four consecutive Ruggerfest title wins.

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