San Diego State stifles Arizona to earn huge nonconference win

D1A Rugby: San Diego State stifles Arizona to earn huge nonconference win
Photo Credit: Connie Hatfield

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – California’s 16th-ranked San Diego State earned an upset win at home over PAC Rugby’s 11th-ranked Arizona Saturday, Feb. 18. The Aztecs leaned on a strong kicking performance by inside center Harrison Barkham and an excellent defensive effort to produce a 30-12 victory.

Barkham booted his side to an early 6-0 advantage thanks to two penalty kicks by the seventh minute, but an Arizona try and successful conversion by Antonios Grigoriou gave the Wildcats a 7-6 lead prior to the 30-minute mark. San Diego State, however, strengthened its defensive platform and made good on nearly all of tackles after relinquishing the lead, and kept Arizona off the scoreboard until it scored a second try in the match’s final play.

“Arizona moved the ball well and had some dangerous players, but we were able to scramble when needed and showed good defensive structure overall,” said San Diego State Head Coach Alex Lichtig. “Our guys were strong in the tackle and we showed good defensive alignment which allowed us to weather the storm when Arizona was on the front foot.”

A third Barkham penalty goal regained the lead for the Aztecs, and the two Top 20 sides would go into the halftime break with the hosts leading, 9-7.

San Diego State began to assert itself on attack following the second half restart. Winger Jake Zinda scored the team’s first try, and was followed by a pair of scores by lock Ryan Walls. All three tries were converted by Barkham to put the Aztecs ahead, 30-7. The San Diego State coaching staff is excited to see another weapon emerge in the backline to go along with the playmaking trio of Ari Flink, Nick Lupian and Austin Switzer.

“Harrison showed well with his boot and around the pitch,” complimented Lichtig. “It’s obviously a good weapon to have when you can put points on the board. Harrison is improving every week and showed a bit of class in his performance this weekend. It wasn’t a complete performance from him, but definitely one he can build on to find his way as a top tier contributor on the team.”

Hard work by Arizona would pay off in the end when the visitors sent scrum half Matt Rogers over the line for the team’s second try in the final minute. Still, the damage was done and San Diego State celebrated a 30-12 win.

The victory over an Arizona team that had entered the contest on a three-match winning streak and knocking on the door D1A Rugby’s top-10 was one of the program’s biggest in recent years. Still, following a Feb. 28 fixture at UC Santa Barbara, the Aztecs enter a month of March that will see them play four tough contests, including matches against No. 3 Saint Mary’s and No. 8 Army before lacing up for an important April 8 California Conference game versus Cal Poly.

“It was nice to see them persevere and eventually put some points on the board while giving a full defensive effort,” Lichtig noted. “Looking back at the match, there are still quite a few areas where we lacked in our performance, but that will help us drive to get better this week in preparation to play UC Santa Barbara.”

The Wildcats will look to its PAC Rugby schedule in order to get back to their winning ways. This weekend Arizona makes the short trip to Tempe, Ariz. to play rival Arizona State.