The Cal rugby team isn’t accustomed to losing championship matches.
Just last month, the Bears were defeated on a last-second drop-kick in the finals of the Varsity Cup against Brigham Young University.
But it didn’t take long for the Bears to return to the top.
In the championship match of the Collegiate Rugby National Championships Sunday, Cal defeated Life University, 19-14, to claim the team’s first sevens national title.
“It’s special to have a chance to be the first in the long history of Cal rugby,” said captain Seamus Kelly. “It’s a great win for the program and our guys.”
The Collegiate Rugby Championship is a 20-team tournament featuring the top collegiate sevens teams from across the country. Each team is only allowed seven players to a side — as opposed to 15 players during the spring season.
With fewer players on the field, the game is more wide open. And with fewer minutes in a match, there is less time for Cal to wear down the opponent. Instead of 40-minute halves in the 15s, each half is only seven minutes.
Despite the difference in format, Cal was still led by its most experienced players.
The Bears got two tries from senior Danny Barrett, who was playing his last game as a Cal rugby player.
Barrett’s play was especially strong for the Bears throughout the weekend. He also scored three tries in Cal’s semifinal match against UCLA.
“Danny really stepped up,” Kelly said. “He had an unbelievable tournament.”
But so did Kelly. He was named the most valuable player of the tournament that took place at PPL Park in Philadelphia, Penn. And his second-half try against Life proved to be the match-winner.
Cal also had added experience in its lineup for the weekend. Ahmed Chehade and Brad Harrington both returned from injury to play major minutes for the Bears. Chehade had not played since February, and Harrington had been out since September.
But even with the additions, the Bears still brought a similar style of play from the 15s season to their match against Life. In the semifinals, the Running Eagles took down Navy, 43-7. But the Bears used a methodical approach of attacking one-on-one matchups in the finals to contain Life’s strong offense.
And for the Bears, the past CRCs have been a frustrating.
In the inaugural tournament, Cal finished as the runner-up in 2010. In 2011, the Bears were knocked out in the quarterfinals. And last season, the Bears won the third-place match.
Sunday’s win over Life was just one of many during the tournament’s three days.
Following wins over Virginia Tech, Kutztown and Temple in group play, the Bears were the No. 1 seed headed into the quarterfinals.
In the quarterfinal and semifinal matches on Sunday, the Bears defeated Arizona and UCLA — two teams that Cal faced during the spring season.
And against Life, the team the Bears beat for third place last year, Cal had just enough for its sixth win of the weekend.
“Ultimately, it comes down to effort and how bad you want to get it done,” said Cal junior Jake Anderson. “It is so special to send our seniors out that way.”
Stephen Hobbs covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected]