No. 3 Cal overcomes No. 10 Arizona, wins conference

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The Cal rugby team, accustomed to big leads and dominating victories, had an uncharacteristically quiet first half against Arizona.

A big second half on both sides of the ball, however, carried the Bears to a 55-13 victory to clinch an undefeated record in the PAC rugby conference.

Cal (14-1, 4-0 PAC) opened up the scoring with junior wing Sam Cusano’s unconverted try in the fifth minute. Sophomore flyhalf Robert Figley gave the Wildcats the lead later in the half, converting two penalty kicks in the ninth and 29th minutes.

Arizona (5-2, 2-1 PAC) locked down the Cal offense before it could score two unconverted tries late in the half, giving the Bears a 15-6 lead.

Cal raced out to a fast start in the second half, scoring six tries within 20 minutes with senior flyhalf/fullback Elliot Webb converting the first five of those.

Senior flanker Nic Mirhashem scored the first of those six in the first minute of the half. This effort was followed by two tries by sophomore wing Marcus Shankland (45th, 53rd minutes), and one apiece by senior flanker/No. 8 Cormac Heaney (48th minute), senior fullback Troy Lockyear (50th minute) and junior flanker Sid Holland (59th minute) to give the Bears a 55-6 lead.

In the final 20 minutes, neither team was able to generate much offense. The Wildcats cut the lead down to 55-13 in the 74th minute when junior center Lucas Bartzis scored a converted try, but that was the last score, as Arizona could not hang on against an explosive Cal squad.

This was the Bears’ most challenging conference matchup this season, as Arizona is the only PAC team that Cal was not able to shut out, in addition to the team scoring far fewer points than its previous average of more than 83 per match.

In terms of national ranking, Arizona was the highest ranked team Cal has played this season, not counting the “World Cup” against Canadian powerhouse University of British Columbia. Cal had also defeated No. 13 UCLA earlier in the season.

On Saturday at Witter Rugby Field, Cal will face No. 1 Saint Mary’s, which the Bears lost to 21-12 when they played last year. Then, the team will host up to two rounds of the national collegiate postseason, starting with the round of 16 on Saturday, April 13, against an opponent to be determined.

Kunal Dutta cover’s rugby. Contact him at [email protected].