May 21, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY - The Golden Bears won the 2011 national collegiate championship over Brigham Young, 21-14, Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium. Flyhalf James Bailes, who kicked three penalties and a conversion for 11 points, was named MVP as California earned the 26th title in program history.
"They came out firing and it was everything you'd expect in a final game," said Bailes of the sixth straight meeting between BYU and Cal in the final. "It's something that American rugby should be very proud of. Coming out with a win like that is very special and something I'll treasure for the rest of my life."
Playing close to its hometown, BYU kicked off to a chant of "Let's Go Cougars" from the majority of the more than 11,000 in attendance and the Cougars got the first chance to score in the second minute, but BYU scrumhalf Shaun Davies was just short from 32 meters on his penalty-kick attempt. Bailes missed his first attempt, too, going wide right from 40 meters in the 16th minute.
The Bears got on the scoreboard first with a try in the 23rd minute by Bears flanker Derek Asbun after Cal's forward pack hammered away with multiple phases inside BYU territory. Bailes's conversion made the score 7-0.
Bailes was good on his next penalty attempt in the 34th minute, connecting from 35 meters to give Cal a 10-0 lead. BYU then relied on its own forward-driven approach deep inside Cal territory, leading to a try by flanker Apenisa Malani at the 37th minute, converted by Davies to trim the Bears' lead to 10-7.
Cal was able to give itself a little more breathing room going into the break when Bailes put his third penalty attempt through the posts from 15 meters, giving the Bears a six-point halftime advantage at 13-7. The Bears kept the ball in BYU territory early in the second half and Bailes notched another three points on a 15-meter attempt at minute 51 to extend the Cal lead to 16-7.
BYU was able to create gaps to threaten several times on attack in both halves but could not capitalize. One Cougars break during the second half inside the Cal 22 ended with a knock-on by hooker Ishmael Tilialo and outside center Seke Kafe knocked another opportunity. Following those BYU handling errors, the Bears held their ground on defense and Bailes was able to find touch with his ensuing clearance kicks.
Cal left some points unscored, as well, such as when scrumhalf Connor Ring saw a gap after a breakdown and sprinted 60 meters inside the BYU 22, but the Bears could not capitalize when referee Garreth Morgan ruled their subsequent lineout throw-in not straight. Still, flanker Tom Rooke was able to drive BYU No. 8 Ryan Roundy into touch soon afterward to regain possession for the Bears.
On the ensuing possession, James Bailes found a gap and fed sophomore outside center Seamus Kelly, who outran the defense to dot down Cal's second try of the evening. Bailes's conversion was no good but the lead was back to 14.
BYU trimmed the lead to 21-14 at minute 69 with try by flanker Hynie Leaaetoa, converted by Davies, but time ran out as Cal kept the ball in tight. The referee's final whistle sounded the end of a tumultuous season with the Rugby Bears as national champions.
"On both sides, it's the hardest thing I've ever been a part of, and you've just got to give credit to our forward pack, who just didn't stop battling the entire game," said Kelly.
"It was a really physical battle to the very end, but we controlled possession and I'm really, really proud of my boys," said Asbun.
Cal finishes the year 27-0 for their second straight undefeated season, while the Cougars ended their season at 15-1. Jack Clark recorded his 22nd championship as head coach of the Bears.
"It's one of those games where we weren't perfect," coach Clark said. "We just played our guts out."
BYU head coach David Smyth said his team "had our opportunities, we've just got to get better at taking them in these really close games. Cal was starving us of the ball, they kept it tight and went north and south, and put in the hard yards. It was close but again we came up a little bit short. Seasoned rugby teams know how to win wherever they're playing, and Cal did that tonight."
Cal has now won eight of the last 10 national title games and 19 of the last 21. The Bears' seven-point margin of victory was the second slimmest in the six all-time Cal-BYU finals, behind a 29-26 Cal win in 2006 and BYU's 25-22 victory in 2009.
"It's different every year because of the guys that you're around," said No. 8 Danny Barrett. "I couldn't thank my teammates more, all the family and friends, everyone from the Cal community across the country."
Added co-captain Blaine Scully: "It's really been a mountain of a year but my teammates never batted an eye."
The Scoring Timeline vs. BYU:
34:00 James Bailes 3
37:00 BYU (Apenisa Malani), 5 (Shaun Davies) 2
40:00 James Bailes 3
Halftime: California 13, BYU 7
51:00 James Bailes 3
61:00 Seamus Kelly 5
69:00 BYU (Hynie Leaaetoa) 5, (Davies) 2
Final Score: California 21, BYU 14
The Team vs. BYU:
15. Scully, 14. Muhn, 13. Kelly, 12. Gallinger, 11. McTurk, 10. Bailes, 9. Ring (Bosco @ 72:00), 1. Deterding (Mohr @ 15:00, Deterding @ 25:00), 2. N. Barrett, 3. Besser, 4. Hyjer, 5. R. Hodson, 6. Asbun ©, 7. Rooke (Law @ 65:00), 8. D. Barrett