For many Cal students, Saturday marked the end of their collegiate careers as they participated in commencement activities in Berkeley.
Meanwhile in Glendale, Colo., the seniors of the Cal rugby team extended their playing careers by one more game with a 62-14 drubbing of Utah in the national semifinal match.
The surging Utes entered Infinity Park on the heels of a 32-26 upset over Army last weekend, while Cal felt it had something to prove after a sloppy performance in its win over Life University.
The Bears didn’t leave much doubt on Saturday, however. After holding a slim 8-7 edge in the first 15 minutes, they reeled off five unanswered tries before halftime and ran away with a convincing victory that propelled them into the national title game on May 21.
“I think today we accomplished what we set out to do, and that was to play a full 80 minutes, 100 percent, and play tight and play quick,” senior co-captain Jason Law said.
With Cal (26-0, 9-0 in the CPD) leading, 15-7, halfway through the first stanza, Cal junior No. 8 Danny Barrett received a yellow card for a high tackle, forcing the Bears to play a man down.
Rather than taking advantage and narrowing the deficit, Utah (13-3, 6-2) only fell behind further. Match-day captain Blaine Scully recorded a short-handed try in the 29th minute that was converted by senior flyhalf James Bailes to give Cal a 22-7 edge.
“I thought the forwards did a really good job keeping up with the ball and using up a lot of time on the clock,” Scully said. “That put a lot of lot of pressure on Utah and really forced them to play a lot of defense.”
The gap only widened when Barrett returned, as the Bears burned the Utes for three more converted tries before the break.
The team widely considered the semifinal smackdown to be a marked improvement from its previous game against Life, which saw Cal take its foot off the gas toward the end of the game.
In Saturday’s contest, however, the Bears went full throttle in the second half. While managing just three tries compared to its six from the first half, Cal effectively kept the Utes at bay while strengthening its grip on the match.
“We knew that we had to give it all and we did,” said senior prop James Besser, a former Daily Cal employee.
That effort in the second half was exemplified by junior left wing James McTurk, whose dogged determination prevented a breakout run from yielding points. The play resulted in a Utah turnover, putting Cal in position to strike again. Meanwhile, Utah was held to two converted tries, one in each half.
The Bears will need such persistence against BYU in the title match next Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Christina Jones covers rugby.