After narrow defeat in semifinals, Bears rebound to beat Life in 7s tourney

Anthony Lombardo scored a try in Cal's loss to Dartmouth in Sunday's semifinal. The Bears came up just two points short of advancing to the finals.
Michael Pimentel, GoldenBearSports.com/Courtesy
Anthony Lombardo scored a try in Cal's loss to Dartmouth in Sunday's semifinal. The Bears came up just two points short of advancing to the finals.

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The Cal rugby team has always prided itself on winning the last game of the season, which it usually counted as the 15s national championship.

With no 15s postseason for the Bears this year and losing their last match to St. Mary’s, this weekend’s Collegiate Rugby 7s Championship took on added importance to accomplishing that goal.

Cal dominated Life University on Sunday, 26-7, to win its final contest of the tournament. Unfortunately for the Bears, that victory came with a bronze medal, not the gold.

“We obviously put a lot of work into this tournament, so not to win was a little disappointing,” said senior Connor Ring. “It was real important (to beat Life) just because it not only ended the season with a win, but it set us up for success next year.”

After running through Saturday’s pool play unscathed and thrashing Texas, 54-5, in the quarterfinals, Cal faced defending champion Dartmouth in the semifinals at PPL Park in Philadelphia, Penn.

Through much of the game, the Bears made the case they were the top team in the tournament. Cal took a slim 12-7 lead into halftime, but a converted try by Anthony Lombardo extended the Bears’ advantage to 19-7 with just under five minutes remaining in the 14-minute match.

The Big Green came storming back, capitalizing on Cal penalties and botched scrums. An unconverted try two and a half minutes later cut the Bears’ lead to 19-14. Kevin Clark crossed the touch line to tie the game, and a conversion gave Dartmouth a two-point edge.

The Bears had less than a minute to score but couldn’t muster the much-needed try, falling 21-19 to the eventual champions.

“We struggled with some penalties there,” said Cal coach Jack Clark. “We lost a couple scrums that probably would’ve won us the game. We had a couple where we were putting the ball in, and you’re not supposed to lose those.”

Standout Seamus Kelly and company came out of the gates with something to prove in the bronze medal match against Life, a team that won a sevens title in the fall.

On a feed from Ring, Kelly set the tone early, scurrying down the middle of the field and breaking two tackles to score the first try of the game.

Kelly returned the favor, dishing to Ring for a breakout run for the last try of his collegiate career. Ring, the lone fifth-year senior on Cal’s sevens squad, served as the captain for his final match.

Josh Tucker turned his first touch of the weekend into a corner try, setting up a tough conversion kick for sophomore Paul Bosco, but he guided it through the uprights. A gassed Running Eagles team found itself on the wrong side of a 21-0 deficit at halftime.

“We realized that we can’t let this (loss to Dartmouth) be the end of us at the tournament,” freshman Andrew Battaglia said.

“We need to go out and prove to ourselves, prove to everyone, prove to the world that we can play sevens.”

Cal’s Ahmed Chehade and Life’s Cornelius Dirksen traded tries in the second half as the Bears wrapped up the bronze medal.

Aside from the one score, the Bears’ stalwart defense largely kept the Running Eagles contained to their half of the field.

“Two years ago we lost in the finals in overtime, but I think this year we played the best rugby all-around,” Ring said.

Correction(s):
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the player in the photo as Seamus Kelly. In fact, the player is Anthony Lombardo.