When the Cal rugby team scores at home, someone is tasked with playing a little music over the loudspeakers, just for 30 seconds or so. When the Bears score 138 points like they did Saturday against Texas in the opening round of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Rugby Championships, that job turns into a full blown DJ set.
A winless Longhorns team taking on the now 16-2 Bears was certain to be a recipe for a blowout but hardly for one with a margin of victory this comical. Texas was also shut out, giving Cal its largest margin of victory since a 176-0 win against Stanford in 2013.
Perhaps most impressively, the majority of the damage was done in the second half, which was played primarily by backups. Eight of Cal’s starting 15 were taken off the field before the second half, including star seniors Russell Webb and Anthony Salaber, who both played brilliantly before both getting subbed out after 19 minutes.
Sophomore Zachary Tavenner played particularly well off the bench after getting subbed in for fifth year senior Nicklas Boyer shortly before halftime. It was somewhat surprising to see Boyer subbed out after his two tries and excellent kicking in difficult rainy conditions, but Tavenner more than proved why he deserved his playing time. He scored four tries in the second half, two in highlight-reel fashion as he sprinted through every level of the defense, bouncing off defenders without losing a beat.
“He’s a tough tackle since he’s got that great acceleration,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “He’s got good instincts to find a gap, and then he steps on the gas and he’s through (the defense). I’m not surprised he did as well as he did.”
The Bears had previously struggled with kicking and ball handling in wet conditions but looked to be much more comfortable with the elements Saturday. Boyer and junior Jamie Howells combined to convert 14 of 22 tries scored.
“I think it’s just mental focus,” Boyer said. “Everyone has the mentality that we’re just in it for the next four weeks for the ultimate prize. I think that collective mindset played a big role.”
The Longhorns’ kicking game didn’t fare as well, missing two penalty kicks leading to their “0” on the scoreboard. The game was refereed very tightly, and the Bears racked up penalties, including a yellow card for junior Connor Sweet.
The Longhorns were greatly overmatched even when they had one more player on the field for 10 minutes following the penalty, and a less attentive fan would not have even noticed the Bears’ disadvantage in those moments.
“When a game is that one-sided, the tendency is for the (winning) team to get really refereed,” Clark said. “I think it was the referee asking us to be perfect on the day, and I don’t think that’s a bad idea in a lopsided contest.”
Shortly after the Texas match, the Bears also won a non-playoff game against Santa Clara, played by a frosh-soph team. Cal sophomore Matthew Coyle led the way to a 73-3 win with two tries and nine conversions. There were stretches in the first half during which the young Bears struggled to create offense, but they were unchallenged on defense and found their groove in the second half, scoring 38.
“There’s a lot of young guys in that lineup learning how to play hard,” Clark said. “They did pretty well, I was pretty impressed with their execution and their control.”
Andrew Wild covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected]