For the first time this spring season, the blue and gold faithful were treated to a close contest. In every home game that Cal rugby has played in, the overwhelming sense among the fans was that of comfort and anticipation in wake of a usual brilliant display.
Saturday’s contest, however, appeared as a shock for many, as Cal only narrowly scraped past BYU at Witter Rugby Field, 24-21.
“Highly competitive matches help us reach our potential,” said head coach Jack Clark in an email. “There are lessons in every contest, just more when playing good teams.”
For context, the Bears’ last four matchups have been won by scores of 84-0, 94-10, 120-0 and 66-5. In fact, their closest matchup in the spring season was a rematch of the Pac-12 Rugby 7s Championship against UCLA, which they won by a score of 38-8.
On a day where the Cal men’s rugby program celebrated its homecoming to honor alumni from its 1982, 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2017 championship teams, this Bears squad looked to extend its win streak to join the greatness before it.
However, the Cougars are no pushovers, having also gone undefeated in the fall. This spring, BYU came to Witter with a 1-1 record on the heels of a narrow victory against Central Washington.
The Bears began the matchup in typical fashion, jumping to a 17-7 halftime lead. In the second half, BYU responded with fire and fury, scoring 14 unanswered with two tries and conversion attempts and jumping to a 21-17 lead with six minutes remaining. This was uncharted territory for the Bears, and their response may speak volumes for the remainder of the season.
With less than a minute left, senior Nick Bloom scored a breakaway try while junior Nate Salter scored the conversion to ultimately pull ahead –– just enough to snag a win for the Bears and keep them undefeated.
This game was marked by a strong team effort on both ends of the field. Particularly, the defensive effort by the forwards kept the Cougars at bay down the stretch.
“A contingent of forwards stood out,” Clark said in the email. “Walsh, Zylstra, Manzo, Golla, Murphy and Broekhuizen all got through a ton of work.”
As the Bears have picked up their 21st-straight win, the chance of defeat has become a bit more conceivable. Cal’s next step toward its goals will take place in Southern California against UCLA, where it will look to reassert its dominance.