No. 3 Cal rugby takes down No. 1 Saint Mary’s to finish regular season

Karen Chow /File

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Cal rugby seldom faces challenges during the regular season, but had cause for concern this Saturday when the team hosted the Saint Mary’s Gaels, ranked as the top team in the country.

“We have a great team coming into the Canyon,” said head coach Jack Clark before the match. “We’re not thinking about the postseason yet.”

A strong performance in the second half, however, led the Bears to a 29-19 victory to cap the regular season and head into the national collegiate postseason with a six-game winning streak.

Cal (15-1) was able to strike first in the 12th minute on junior wing Sam Cusano’s unconverted try. The rest of the half, however, was an offensive struggle for both teams.

Wing Tom Brusati put Saint Mary’s (16-1) on the board with an unconverted try in the 19th minute. Neither teams were able to score for nearly 20 minutes until junior prop Damon Wiley put the Bears up 10-5 in the 37th minute. The Gaels scored in the final minute of the half on a converted try to go into the locker room up 12-10 in a back-and-forth match.

Saint Mary’s struck first in the second half, as fullback/center Aaron Matthews extended the Gael lead to 19-10 on his converted try in the 53rd minute.

Junior scrumhalf Keanu Andrade broke the try zone two minutes later to cut the lead to four, and 14 minutes later, senior flanker Nic Mirhashem regained the lead for Cal with his try, converted by freshman flyhalf Sam Walsh.

Wiley scored his second try of the game to ice the match with two minutes remaining and Walsh converted to extend the lead to 29-19. Saint Mary’s did not have enough time to erase the 10 point deficit, giving Cal the upset victory with the Bears entering the match as the third-ranked team. It was the Bears’ third-lowest scoring effort in the 16-game season and the Gaels’ lowest point total for their season.

The win clinched an undefeated home record for the Cal rugby squad and their only loss overall came outside of the D1A rugby league, in their visit to the Canadian powerhouse University of British Columbia on March 3.

The Bears will now await the postseason and will host UC Davis in a Round of 16 matchup on April 13 at 1 p.m. Last season, the team advanced to the national championship final, but fell to Life University.

“Our goal is to win the national championship,” Mirhashem said. “Every match is a step toward it.”

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