In Sunday’s Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, seven Golden Bears faced off against seven Golden Bears. Both Cal and Kutztown have the same mascot, but that’s not where the similarities between the teams end. They hail from similar-sounding locations — the Kutztown Bears are from Berks County, Pennsylvania — and this is the second consecutive year in which the two teams have battled for a 7s national championship title that was decided by a margin of five points or fewer.
But only one team of Golden Bears can claim the title of national champion, and this year — for the third year in a row — the Cal Bears were the ones that walked away as victors.
“All in all, I thought the guys held their nerve, held their composure very well and were able to play a bit more ball movement in the second half — a little more width,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “And I think that helped us win.”
Before Cal could make it to the championship final, however, the team first had to play its way through a gauntlet of five opponents. On Saturday, Cal was able to sweep all three teams in its pool, first beating Boston College in a score of 33-5, then Notre Dame, 39-5, and finally Virginia Tech in a close 12-7 win.
On Sunday, in the quarterfinal, Cal shut out the University of Michigan by a score of 31-0. The Bears then faced off against Life, which Cal beat in the 2013 championship finals. In this year’s semifinals, they won yet again, beating the Running Eagles, 33-5.
Finally, on Sunday afternoon, the Bears prepared to face off against their same-named nemesis, the Golden Bears of Kutztown.
Kutztown was able to score the first try of the game, and after a successful conversion, Kutztown led, 7-0. Cal’s Anthony Salaber followed up closely with a try, and after a successful conversion, the game was tied at seven points apiece.
Andrew Battaglia’s near-try almost brought Cal ahead, but the play was called off, as the referee motioned that Battaglia’s foot had gone out of bounds. The game remained tied at seven going into halftime.
At the start of the second half, Battaglia was able to score yet again, this time with no qualms from the referee, and Cal gained a 12-7 lead.
But Kutztown wasn’t to be left in the dust, and as the clock ticked down, the Golden Bears from Pennsylvania struck when Alex Faison-Donahoe was able to run into the try zone, tying the match at 12 points.
As the crowd grew antsy and emotions ran higher, the referee called a body-slamming penalty on Kutztown’s Bilal Hassen, giving Cal a man advantage for the last 30 seconds of regulation. Cal, however, was unable to create any offensive action, and the match spilled into overtime.
Graduating fifth-year senior co-captain Jake Anderson completed the last play of the game and his last as a Cal Bear, scoring a try to bring his team to a 17-12 win. The play earned Anderson the title of MVP for the game, while earning Cal another national championship title.
“It was fantastic and great for Jake because he’s a great captain,” Clark said. “It was great for him to win the MVP — a really nice moment.”
For the graduating seniors, leaving Cal with another national championship win is the best way to go.
Jessi McDonald covers rugby. Contact her at [email protected].