SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Senior Alex Aronson found himself in an unfamiliar spot on Saturday afternoon.
For the first time in his career as a Cal rugger, the flyhalf was asked to step up and kick a go-ahead conversion. With the Bears trailing 11-12 to British Columbia following a try from Danny Barrett, Aronson lined up his shot, his team’s 62-game win streak resting on his right foot.
“I just wanted to go through my routine, trust it and strike it true,” Aronson said.
He did just that, and the Cal rugby team managed to overcome a late six-point deficit to beat the Thunderbirds 13-12 at the Golden Gate Rugby Club on Treasure Island.
“It’s an important win,” said coach Jack Clark. “We made our share of mistakes, and we’re a fair ways away from being the team that we can be, but that’s for (Sunday) morning in film study.”
The Bears managed to jump ahead early, capitalizing on UBC miscues for two converted penalty kicks from Aronson to grab a 6-0 lead. Cal maintained the run of play for much of the early goings, preventing the Thunderbirds from getting into any sort of offensive rhythm.
British Columbia then ratcheted up the defense, neutralizing Cal’s scrums and seizing the momentum. Flyhalf Carlin Hamstra put away two of his three first-half penalty kicks, knotting up the score at 6 apiece going into the break.
“I thought we did quite well in the set scrum pieces today, and we put Cal under a lot of pressure and destroyed their offensive platform,” said UBC coach Spence McTavish.
The Thunderbirds would retain that same momentum for much of the second half. The Bears were able to put themselves in numerous scoring positions, but UBC’s defense refused to break, keeping the Bears out of the try zone while building their lead up to 12-6 with just over five minutes to play.
Then junior Seamus Kelly laid into his teammates in a huddle, delivering an ultimatum to the struggling Bears.
“It kind of lit a fire under our ass,” said senior Danny Barrett. “We said, ‘We put ourselves in this situation — let’s take ourselves out.’”
With the ball near their own try zone, the Thunderbirds attempted to clear it with a kick, but sophomore Jake Anderson caught the ball at midfield and blew by two defenders, putting the Bears right back in scoring position. After a series of scrums, Barrett took a pass and trucked his way into the try zone, setting up Aronson’s winning conversion.
“It was a team try, and we put a lot of effort to get down on the goal line,” Barrett said. “We put ourselves in a tough situation, and we were happy to dig ourselves out.”
Cal will now own a one-point cushion in the World Cup Series, with the second and final game taking place on March 25 in Vancouver. The overall point differential from the two games will decide the winner.
“I told the guys that they should be happy that they came back and won that game,” Clark said. “I want them to feel the pleasure of a comeback game. But I want them to be humble, knowing that we can play better rugby than that.”