Watching the Bears face off against the Bruins on Saturday was like watching a salmon swim upstream on its last spawning run. The salmon battles valiantly against the current, but there are only two outcomes — death by exhaustion or death by bear. In this case, it was death by bear.
Indeed, the Bears caught up to the Bruins on Saturday morning, winning 59-7 — and also later forced the Cal Maritime Keelhaulers to tap out 109-0. But the game against UCLA was by no means perfect, especially for the perfectionist Cal team.
In the beginning of the first half — and arguably throughout the whole game — the main problem for the Bears was sloppy passing. At times there would be beautiful, explosive bursts through the UCLA defensive line. But, as a Bear was being tackled, a poor pass was made, resulting in perhaps a turnover — or, in the one instance when UCLA scored, a try for the other team.
These passing errors also resulted in several instances of forward passing and knock-ons, which are both illegal, and caused possession to be turned over to the Bruins.
These poor passes elicited audible groans from the fans — especially because many of them occurred on the cusp of an offensive breakaway. Indeed, the general feeling during the first half was uncertainty. It was fairly obvious the Bears were going to win the game, but it was a messy performance, uncharacteristic of the normally machine-like Cal team.
The Bruins fought fiercely in the first half. On at least one occasion, UCLA won the ball by preventing the Bears from being able to legally take the ball from a tackled player and distribute it. It also seemed the Bears were having difficulty busting through the feisty Bruin defensive line. Most of the success of the UCLA team was defensive; the Bruins kept the Bears to only two tries in the first half.
The several scuffles that broke out between the Bears and the Bruins, an aggressive slap or shove, only enhanced the general feeling of disquietude. As Cal marched off the field at half time, it was clear the Bears were frustrated; it was clear the Bears hadn’t found their rhythm. The last time the Bears and the Bruins played, Cal came away in a similar funk — beating UCLA only 19-8, a smaller margin than expected.
But whatever head coach Jack Clark said in that locker room, it worked.
In the second half, the Bears came roaring back, claws out. Senior Keanu Andrade scored three tries in only 29 minutes of play; in total, Cal scored seven tries in the second half. Junior Marcus Shankland also registered an impressive performance, scoring twice in the second half.
“It was a messy first half, but it got a bit better in the second half,” Clark said. “Maybe to be expected, but we have much to improve.”
Against the Keelhaulers later in the day, the Bears achieved the ultimate tapout — scoring 16 tries in total, and causing the game to be cut short to 60 minutes. Cal started a smattering of young players — many of them freshman and sophomores — and the underclassmen absolutely dominated the match. This type of score was not exactly unexpected. Last year, the Bears beat the Keelhaulers 60-3 with an all freshman and sophomore team.
Throughout the beginning of this season, the coaching staff has been striving for perfection. But this weekend’s results demonstrate that the Bears don’t have to be perfect to dominate.
Jem Ruf covers men’s rugby. Contact him at [email protected].