Cal may have entered halftime with a 17-point lead over Air Force at home Saturday, but things were a lot dicier than the score indicated. Fighting a wave of injuries and desperately in need of a statement win, the Bears struggled to take command of the game. A special halftime celebration provided some much needed motivation, and after taking the field again, Cal struck early and often, scoring 36 unanswered points in the second half on its way to a 65-12 win.
Before two scores in the last minute of the first half, the Bears had played to a virtual tie with the Falcons. The ball handling issues that have plagued them all season swung too many possessions, and the offense scored most of its points on bizarre, borderline fluky plays. Whether it was a schematic change, a rallying of the players or seeing seven championship teams from the past 35 years take the field to be honored, something changed between the halves.
Included in the honorees was Robert Salaber. The father of current Bears, Anthony and Nick Salaber, Robert Salaber was a key player on the 1986 championship team, current Cal head coach Jack Clark’s second at the helm. Salaber scored a last minute try in the 1985 championship game, his last as a Bear, and was able to see both of his sons play in his trip back to Witter Field, including a try by Anthony Salaber.
“It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Anthony Salaber said. “To get my dad recognized, with all of his buddies, the guys I grew up playing rugby around. It is just a great day; can’t ask for a better one. Having the same coach, we go through a lot of the same experiences, so it’s really special.”
A bevy of injuries forced lineup changes all over the field. Junior Evan Coleman was inserted into the starting lineup at fullback, and he filled in beautifully. He scored two tries, broke away from the defense many times beyond that and knew exactly when to go for the big play or just kick the ball away. Additionally, going beyond the normal duties of the 15 jersey, Coleman flew around the field on defense with frenetic energy, never giving up on tackling players twice his size.
“(Coleman) had a good day today,” Clark said. “He hustled down to get a try for us right before the half, and that was a big play for us.”
Tightness in senior Harry Adolphus’ groin left him able to play, but unable to fulfill his usual kicking duties. Fifth year senior Nicklas Boyer stepped in to take over the task. He was a dominant force in the offense, scoring two tries, but his kicking was a bit wanting. He nailed his first two kicks, but after a close miss on a difficult conversion, he started to miss more wildly, finishing six of 10 on the day.
Kicking figured even more heavily into Cal’s 35-12 win in a match against Cal Maritime earlier that day. Using players who generally only see the field in practice, the Bears struggled to find an offensive rhythm and took some disastrously bad angles on defense. Things were tight for a good portion of the first half, but the Keelhaulers’ kicking was not up to par, consistently eroding the flow of an offense that was finding room to operate within the Bears defense.
The offense rested on the shoulders of sophomore William Fuller and junior Matt Ternan, who both dominated with ease. Fuller’s bursts of speed left most Maritime players in the dust, and his ability to change direction on a dime left the few Keelhaulers remaining between him and the try-line lunging at air or unsure of what direction in which to pursue him. Ternan fought through tackle after tackle and had key passes to Fuller on both of his tries before adding two of his own.
“I have a lot of trust in (Fuller’s) performance,” Ternan said. “He communicated with me early and made my job a lot easier. He’s an up and coming star in this program.”
Andrew Wild covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected]