May 4, 2013
PROVO, Utah - California fought back to tie the Varsity Cup National Championship with six minutes remaining on a try by Seamus Kelly and conversion by Jake Anderson before BYU flyhalf Jonny Linehan kicked a 17-meter drop goal at the end of injury time to win the title, 27-24, for the Cougars Saturday on South Field.
"We were confident we could have a stretch of play where we could get ourselves back in this game," said Kelly. "There's no panic in us and we're capable of putting up a large number of points in a short amount of time, but it just wasn't enough."
The Golden Bears finish the spring 15s season at 21-1 (5-0 PAC Rugby Conference) while BYU exits the inaugural Varsity Cup National Championship at 12-2 and remains undefeated on its home field, where a partisan crowd was tempered by a committed Cal contingent who almost saw the Bears make history.
"They were a big, strong team with a great crowd behind them," said flanker Alec Gletzer. "We expected a close game and it was."
Kelly's try to knot the contest at 24-24 in the 74th minute was the Bears' third of the afternoon, following tries by freshman flyhalf Jake Anderson converted all three(3-for-3) and added a penalty kick (1-for-3) for the Bears.
Anderson missed a 49-meter penalty attempt early in the match and was hard done by officials who ruled his second attempt no good just before the halftime horn after his boot from beyond the 22-meter line at the left touchline appeared to track over the left upright.
"It looked good to me but ultimately that's not what it came down to," said Anderson. "We didn't get the job done."
For BYU, Linehan scored a try which he converted (1-for-1) and added four penalty kicks (4-for-5) before his game-winning drop goal (1-for-1) earned the freshman MVP honors with 22 points scored. "I was fortunate enough to put it through the posts, but I wouldn't want to have to do it again," said Linehan of his final kick.
Not evident in the scoring column on Saturday but obvious to the capacity crowd and online audience was the kind of intensity that only BYU and Cal can provide in American collegiate rugby. The Cougars sought to stymie Cal's resolve to play fast, meeting the Bears' midfield early and playing with characteristic physicality. The Bears absorbed the best BYU could offer and counterattacked often, hanging on to persevere through sometimes self-inflicted adversity.
Anderson and Linehan traded midfield misses on penalty attempts in the first five minutes before the Cougars flyhalf from New Zealand put BYU on the board, 7-0, when he secured a squirrely ball and scored, then converted his own try.
Kelly barreled toward the try zone two minutes later but was held up in goal, and winger Josh Tucker soon followed with one of several breaks he made inside the BYU 22, ending with a Cougars penalty on which Anderson capitalized, putting the Bears on the board at 7-3.
Three made penalty kicks by Linehan opened up a 16-3 BYU lead until Webb tapped quickly and scored after another BYU penalty, and Anderson slotted the conversion from near the left touchline to make it 16-10 as Cougar fans stamped their feet on the main stand trying to distract the junior.
The Bears rumbled back into scoring position soon after on another rush, kick-chase and collect by Tucker, then Cal drew a penalty but could not capitalize off the restart. Still, the Bears had a scoring chance on another whistle against the Cougars, but Anderson's penalty attempt at the end of the half was ruled wide, leaving the Bears down by six at halftime.
Having made second-half performances their hallmark in key matches this spring, the Bears came out confident after the break, and a charge-down blocked kick by Kelly that led to a Cal scrum inside the BYU 22 seemed promising. Scrumhalf Nicklas Boyer crashed through trying to reach the line, as did Anderson, but BYU held firm. Soon after, Linehan's fourth penalty kick made it 19-10 in favor of the Cougars.
BYU kept pressing the Bears' backline, and late tackle of Webb by Kyle Sumsion resulted in a yellow card for the Cougars flanker. Two minutes later, O'Beirne's try was converted to make it a two-point game at 19-17.
The Cougars mounted more pressure that resulted in another yellow card, this time against Cal's Tucker for what referee Brian Zapp ruled was a deliberate knock-on. One minute after Sumison's return gave BYU a man advantage, BYU lock TJ Allred scored a try that made it a 24-17 match with under 10 minutes to play.
Playing with courage at less than full strength, the Bears evened the contest on Kelly's try, taking an offload from sophomore replacement center Jesse Milne and scoring between the posts to give Anderson the best chance possible to tie it up, which he did.
Brigham Young threatened to score a try as the clock wound down but Cougars captain Ryan Roundy was held up in goal by Cal. The Bears kept defending but could reach Linehan as he set up behind the breakdown as time expired, and his drop goal was immediately followed by the final whistle.
"At the end of the day we weren't as accurate as we needed to be. Had we been, I think we could have put in a better performance," said Cal head coach Jack Clark. "This said, I thought BYU was very good today and very deserving of the victory.
"We had a pretty great year. I was really proud of the team and the effort they put into it, and I told them in the locker room it was a real privilege to coach them. We were much better this year than we were a year ago and I think we'll be better next year."
Danny Barrett played his last match as a Golden Bear in Saturday's final along with forwards Grant Hyjer, Brendan Daly. This Varsity Cup National Championship was the 11th meeting between Cal and BYU and the seventh in a championship game. The Bears all-time record against the Cougars is now 9-2 ,with a 5-2 edge over BYU in national title contests
Saturday's battle was the third championship meeting between Cal and BYU to be decided by only three points. The Bears took the 2006 title, 29-26, and the Cougars won the 2009 final, 25-22.
A replay of the 2013 Varsity Cup National Championship will be available at YouTube.com/VarsityCupRugby, where fans can re-live the excitement that only comes from the meeting of the best, while Cal will look back on its performance with disappointment, frustration and resolve to improve for the next meeting between these two teams.
Despite the sting of this loss, Cal must turn the page and prepare next for the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s, where the Bears will compete June 1-2 in the Olympic code of the game televised by NBC Sports.
The Scoring Timeline vs. BYU:
12:00 BYU (Jonny Linehan) 5, 2
17:00 Jake Anderson 3
18:00 BYU (Jonny Linehan) 3
22:00 BYU (Jonny Linehan) 3
26:00 BYU (Jonny Linehan) 3
34:00 Jake Anderson 2
Halftime Score: BYU 16, California 10
57:00 BYU (Jonny Linehan) 3
62:00 Jake Anderson 2
71:00 BYU (TJ Allred) 5
74:00 Seamus Kelly 5, Jake Anderson 2
80:00 BYU (Jonny Linehan) 3
Final Score: BYU 27, California 24
The Team vs.BYU:
15. Anderson, 14. Tucker, 13. Kelly ©, 12. Braun (Milne @ 67:00), 11. Battaglia (Adolphus @ 76:00), 10. Webb, 9. Boyer, 1. Mohr, 2. Hyjer, 3. Hurrell, 4. Barrett, 5. Daly, 6. O'Beirne (Hendrickson @ 77:00), 7. Gletzer, 8. De Nysschen (Bush @ 70:00)