April 16, 2016
Cal Squeezes by Army to Varsity Cup Semi-finals
Photo: ABFlyer Photo
Cal Athletes Press Release: April 16, 2016
WEST POINT, N.Y. – The No. 2 Golden Bears earned a semifinal berth in the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Rugby Championships with a 41-29, come-from-behind win over No. 11 Army Saturday on Warrior Field at the Anderson Rugby Complex.
California (17-2) got six tries from five players, Russell Webb notching two tries and a conversion, and Harry Adolphus contributed three conversions (3-for-5) and a penalty kick (1-for-1). The Black Knights (9-5) notched five tries from five players, with Andrew Borer adding two penalties (2-for-5) for the home side.
Cal will host its national semifinal on Witter Rugby Field Saturday, April 23, at 1 p.m. vs. Central Washington, who defeated Utah, 58-5, Saturday in Salt Lake City.
It was a very challenging afternoon for the Bears, who surrendered four first-half tries to the Knights before clawing their way back to within one point at the break on Webb’s two tries and another from Nic Mirhashem.
Cal took its first lead of the match early in the second stanza on a try by Adolphus, who converted for a 28-22 advantage. Nine minutes later the Knights snatched back the lead when Borer converted his own try to bring West Point in front, 29-28. But another nine minutes later, replacement forward Connor Sweet bulled his way into the try zone to give Cal a 33-29 advantage, and the Blue and Gold sealed their win with eight more unanswered points in the final 18 minutes.
To prevent Army from making a comeback of its own in that final quarter, the Rugby Bears withstood a Black Knights sequence inside their 10-meter line in one prolonged sequence and, at another key moment, won a scrum on the head inside Cal territory with three minutes remaining.
Saturday’s quarterfinal marked the Bears’ historic debut on Army’s home pitch under sunny skies, and Cal left the contest aware it had managed to emerge victorious on a day that was in doubt for substantial portions of the 80-minute battle.
“Our error count was just too high, and give Army credit for some of that through their pressure and physicality,” said head coach Jack Clark. “We watched them play in the first half, then played a bit ourselves in the second half. All in all, it was a special day of rugby.”
“Nothing but the utmost respect for those guys and the Academy,” said matchday captain Scott Walsh. “They gave us a really physical game and going forward in the postseason, that’s something we need to respond to.”
“You knew they were never going to back down at home, on a field they consider sacred, and rightly so,” said Webb. “We’re going to remember this as one of the most special places we’re ever played.”
Black Knights head coach Matt Sherman, the former Cal co-captain, All-American and national champion as a player who completed his first year at the helm at West Point, said, “I was really proud of the effort, but I was equally proud of our composure. We found that balance. We’ll rue a couple times where we weren’t quite accurate but I’m as proud as I’ve ever been of a team that I’ve coached.”
In other quarterfinal action Saturday on the other side of the Varsity Cup bracket, Brigham Young advanced past Dartmouth, 75-15, in Hanover, N.H., and Arkansas State outlast Navy, 31-24, in Annapolis, Md. The Cougars will host the Red Wolves April 23 in the other national semifinal at Provo, Utah.
Next weekend, preceding the Varsity Cup semifinal between the Bears and Wildcats on Witter Rugby Field, a frosh-soph Cal lineup will take on the NorCal Small College All-Stars at 11 a.m. Gate will open at 10 a.m. with online ticket sales available in advance at in addition to cash-only ticket sales at the venue.
The national collegiate championship final of the Varsity Cup is set for May 7 at 2 p.m. MT in Provo, after which Cal will turn back to the Olympic style of the game at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship June 4-5, when the Bears will play for their fourth straight national title in 7s ahead of the return of rugby to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.