May 3, 1998
SAN FRANCISCO - Cal captured its eighth consecutive national rugby championship Sunday, beating arch-rival Stanford 34-15.
The Cardinal led at half-time 15-10 and it took 24 unanswered second half points from the Bears including two late tries to secure the game, the title, an undefeated season, and a continuation of Cal's rugby dynasty.
Like much of the season, Cal captain and flyhalf Dave Stroble engineered the majority of the magic for the Varsity team. Despite a hamstring pull incurred in Saturday's semi-final, Stroble kicked five penalty goals and two conversions, while also directing the Cal offense. "Stroble is such a good player that even at 75% he is a force," said Cal head coach Jack Clark.
Another top Cal player, No. 8 Shaun Paga, was also hampered by injury. But despite back and ankle problems, Paga stamped the game with his signature storming runs, setting up one try for center Deron McElroy. "Shaun is a gamer," said Clark. "He will put in his best performance in the biggest games." Cradling the Final Four's MVP award after the game, Paga shrugged off the injury problems: "Once I took the field, I didn't feel a thing," he said, "nothing at all."
It was an even more determined Stanford team at Balboa Park than the one Cal faced at home in the regular season. The Cardinal's forwards stormed into the rucks and mauls in the first half of the game, often disrupting Cal ball. Stanford's backs were typically opportunistic, grabbing an interception and scoring under the posts near the end of the first half.
The Bears had drawn first blood, with a try to flanker and senior captain Simon Terry-Lloyd in the fourth minute of the game. But thoughts of a Cal rout were soon dismissed when Stanford's winger Dave Warter kicked a penalty from 45 meters to narrow the gap. Warter then added a try after Cal miscued on a 22m restart and the Cardinal exploited their advantage out wide from the ensuing scrum.
The intercept try to Stanford center Michael Ceballos followed and it took a last minute penalty from Stroble to edge Cal back into the game before the half-time break. Cal was down despite some major contributions from lock Matt Kane who stole Stanford's line-out ball repeatedly, and hooker Kirk Khasigian who was omnipresent on both offense and defense.
At the break, coach Clark asked his team to up their effort after an average first period. "We made a commitment to more effort," Clark said. "You get into these big games and you get fatigued from all the emotion of the event. But we came right in the second half. I had a sense we would."
'Coming right' meant sustained pressure for Stanford. The Bears could not finish their repeated attacks with a try, but spent enough time on offense that Stroble slotted four penalties. Even so, with five minutes left to play the Bears were up by only one converted try and mindful of the attack-from-anywhere Stanford style. Cal finally cracked the Cardinal defense with a variation on a scrum move that used McElroy as a decoy rather than the ball carrier and put wing Ryan Fried into enough space that he bustled over the Stanford line for his third try of the weekend.
The icing on Cal's championship cake came as the game clock wound down. Stroble slipped through the defense at mid-field and streaked to the 22m. A few phases later, Paga pushed the ball to the one meter line and McElroy scored to seal the Bear's win.
In the play-off for third place, Navy held off a never-say-die Indiana team 43-38.
For the coaches of the nation's top collegiate team's there is no breather after the championship match. Stanford's Franck Boivert joins the US National Women's team at the Rugby World Cup in Amsterdam, while Cal's Clark leaves immediately with the US men's team for the Asian leg of the Pacific Rim Championship.
For Cal the national championship is the 15th since the collegiate title tournament began in 1980. It also crowns the first undefeated season since 1965. The Bears beat Canada's finest in 1998, defeating their national champions, University of Victoria, and second ranked University of British Columbia who held the Bears to a tie in Berkeley, but lost at home in Vancouver.
1st Half 2nd Half Final Cal 10 24 34 Stanford 15 0 15