May 6, 2006
STANFORD, Calif. - California more than met the challenge against a favored BYU team today, coming away with a 29-26 victory to make the Golden Bears 2006 national champions.
Junior lock Louis Stanfill was named tournament MVP after Cal held off a late charge to preserve a three-point win over Brigham Young and hoist its 22nd championship in the 27 years the award has been given.
"We knew going in that this was going to be a barnburner," Stanfill said. "This was going to be down to the wire. Down to the last minute we knew it was put our guts on the line or lose, and I think we put our guts on the line."
"Louis was fantastic," head coach Jack Clark said. "We were really good at the line of touch. It was really the difference in the game."
Clark showed hints of tears as he told the press, "This team boxed above their weight today, and I just could not be any more proud of them. BYU was fantastic. It was pretty clear that we were physically challenged. It was a really brave performance by our boys."
An overflowing crowd at Steuber Rugby Stadium was treated to a seesaw battle featuring four lead changes and the kind of fierce competition that makes people rugby fans for life.
Cal had to be every bit as good as its winning tradition suggests to carry the day against the Cougars, who played with a toughness and determination that Cal reached deep to match. The Bears did what they had to do, refusing to yield in close quarters and finding the moxie to stymie the Cougars out wide more often than BYU could slip through to score.
Cougars No. 8 Ikani Taumopeau got BYU on the board first when he galloped in from halfway after taking it to the blind side from a scrum in only the third minute of play.
Cal got itself going 10 minutes later when fullback Chris Gurecki slotted a penalty kick from 27 meters to make it 7-3, BYU.
The Bears stayed on the gas and took their first lead three minutes later, when flyhalf Rob Weedon touched down following one of Cal's litany of successful rucks several meters outside the BYU try line.
The Cougars took back the lead shortly after as fullback Jeff Hullinger dotted down. A missed conversion made the score 12-10, BYU.
Louis Stanfill answered back for Cal at minute 25, scoring a try after scrumhalf Andrew Johnson managed to keep the ball available for the Bears after a tackle. Wing Scott Kidd found paydirt 10 minutes later in the left corner, leaving the score 22-12 at the half.
Brigham Young summoned the desire to mount a comeback, but not until after wing Jason Lee had scored a try eight minutes after play restarted to make it a 29-12 contest. Hullinger scored again for BYU, followed 10 minutes later by a Vito Qaqa try to bring the Cougars to within three.
The clock ticked down as BYU knocked on the door a final time. A kick directly out by Gurecki gave the Cougars a lineout outside the Cal 22 with under a minute to play.
BYU tried to bulldoze up the middle and spin it wide to find one last score, but the Golden Bears held up. "I was holding my breath that the clock would expire," said Clark. "I was just hoping we could get someone on the ground, and then we poached a ball and it was celebration time."
"Our guys hung in out there and made a game of it at the end," said BYU head coach Dave Smyth. "We're proud, we're disappointed. But, hey, the bottom line is it's all about rugby, and if two universities can put on a show like that, where both teams at the end know they were in a rugby game, then rugby is the beneficiary, and we're happy about that. We'll work it out and come back a better team."
BYU's worthiness as an opponent makes this national championship a special one in the history of Cal rugby. "We're so happy we got the victory," said Cal match-day captain Andrew Lindsey, a senior. "Credit to BYU and credit to our guys for staying so focused."
The Scoring Timeline vs. BYU:
08:00 BYU 5, 2
13:00 Chris Gurecki 3
20:00 BYU 5
35:00 Scott Kidd 5
Half Time: California 22, BYU 12
65:00 BYU 5, 2
75:00 BYU 5, 2
Final Score: California 29, BYU 26
The Team vs. Utah:
15. Gurecki, 14. Lee, 13. Brogan, 12. Donnelly, 11. Kidd, 10. Weedon, 9. Johnson (Wright @ 75:00), 1. Dorosti, 2. Biller, 3. Barrett (Kroll @ 65:00), 4. L Stanfill, 5. J Stanfill, 6. Fry (Welch @ 47:00), 7. Pretorius, 8. Lindsey (c)