The Bears capped off the rugby 15s season on high-note by winning the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup for the second consecutive season in a dominant 43-13 win over Arkansas State.
Cal was led by senior Kevin Sullivan and fifth-year Russell Webb as well as freshman standout Sam Cusano. Sullivan was named the Man of the Match with his one try and more importantly impressive work in the forwards that, on many occasions, opened up the field for the Bears’ scores.
Webb accounted for 18 of the Bears’ points by scoring one try of his own along with an impressive five of six on attempted conversions. Also, on his biggest stage yet, Cusano tallied three tries of his own with his combination of elusiveness and blazing speed in the open field.
“Kevin (Sullivan) is the leader of the forward pack,” Webb said. “Without him half of today’s tries don’t count. Behind the scenes, he is the one that brings the forwards and backs together.”
In the first period, the Bears outscored the Red Wolves 19-3, with Cusano providing the first score with a display of blazing speed on the outside en route to the try zone. Cal was up 7-0 following a successful conversion from Webb and the score remained intact for the next several minutes as both teams cranked up their defensive intensity.
Arkansas State couldn’t match Cal’s energy and its defense broke down in the latter moments of the first half. The Bears went on to score two more tries courtesy of Sullivan and junior Aidan Flynn, with each coming at the 35- and 40-minute marks, respectively. Sullivan’s score, coupling strength and determination as he powered his way into the try zone, and Flynn’s score were the icing on the cake to give the Bears a commanding lead at halftime.
In the early moments of the contest, Cal’s sophomore lock Robert Paylor went down with a serious injury and was carted off-field and taken to a nearby hospital. Playing with heavy hearts, the Bears orchestrated a strong showing of rugby for their fellow teammate.
The Bears turned it up a notch in the second half and scored two more tries in the half’s first 15 minutes. This early display of offensive potency revealed that Cal showed no signs of letting up. Along with the two tries, Webb’s two additional conversions put the Bears up 33-3 in the early moments of the half.
Arkansas State would respond with a try of their own from senior Sione Fangaiuiha, bringing the score to 33-8, but for the Red Wolves, it was too little too late. Cal responded with a successful penalty kick from Webb and Cusano’s third try of the afternoon, providing the finishing touches for the Bears’ championship win.
“(We got) some extra fitness in to make sure that we were fit for this postseason and it came through,” Webb said.
After a rugby 15s season that included early injuries to senior Thomas Robles, sophomore Troy Lockyear, and Paylor, roster shuffling and the emergence of underclassmen, the Bears managed to overcome adversity and win another title.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the lads,” Webb said.
Ryan Groves covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].