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Operators drop match, but still in contention for title

Columbia County rugby team fails in bid for first but still in division race
by: John Brewington HARD RUNNING—Josh Kellar of the Columbia County Operators’ rugby team fights for yardage during last Saturday’s match with Camas. The Operators lost the match, but are still in contention.

As rugby teams go, the Columbia County Operators are not the biggest team in their division, but they make up for that in strength and athletic ability.

It wasn't enough on Saturday as the Operators lost their first game of the season, falling to Camas, 22-10.

If Columbia County had been able to pull off the win, they would have moved into sole possession of first in the division. Instead, they moved down into a tie for fourth, but just two points behind second.

The game was close for the first half. Camas scored a try and converted the kick for a 7-0 lead. The Operators responded with a score from Bairon Chrest and Doug Kessinger converted the extra two points to tie the score.

Camas quickly responded with a breakaway try to take the lead again, but missed the kick. The locals would get a penalty kick near their goal and Kessinger made the effort to leave the team down just 12-10 at halftime.

The Camas size wore the Operators down a bit in the second half. Camas was able to put the game away with two tries and the Columbia County squad couldn't score.

'Camas is a very aggressive and physical team, they definitely had a huge advantage over us size-wise,' head coach Robbie Carrigan said. 'But the boys never gave up, they played their hardest and held them up multiple times when we were pinned against our own try line.'

Despite the loss, the second-year head coach likes the look of this year's team.

'Team work is our greatest strength,' Carrigan says. 'We're not the biggest, but we have five or six players over 200 and we're very, very strong. We're very athletic.'

Carrigan was on the Operators team that won the state championship and he thinks this team might be able to accomplish as much.

While the Operators lost to league-leading Camas on Saturday, they are still in the upper echelon of the Division 2 small school division. Teams are aligned based mostly on similar population areas.

The division includes Pendleton, Lincoln/West Side Portland, Polk County, Lake Oswego, Tualatin, and the Valley Rams.

The Operators had a good turnout this spring. Some 27 kids showed up for a match with Pendleton at Western Oregon University in Monmouth. The team beat Lake Oswego 38-5 in their league opener, and tied Polk County 5-5 in their second match.

The team pulls players from St. Helens, Vernonia, Rainier, and Scappoose. Surprisingly, the fewest players came from Scappoose this year.