On a brisk spring evening in Strawberry Canyon, something rare met something common as upbeat band music blared over the hillsides. The rare: Cal rugby’s first and only home night game of the season, which brought big crowds, Cal Band and an upbeat atmosphere to Witter Rugby Field. The common: another dominant Bears’ victory.
No. 1 Cal crushed No. 7 Central Washington 48-19 Friday evening in a match that never felt particularly close, remaining undefeated this season.
Junior fullback Max Schumacher got over the line in just the second minute of the game, hurling the ball into the air in celebration as he gave the Bears a lead they would never relinquish. He was among the standouts of the night for Cal, beating numerous defenders with his quick feet and adding a number of long runs and a second try as the night went on.
Cal’s back row also had an impressive night. Blindside flanker Jake Broekhuizen dominated at the lineout, foiling multiple scoring attempts for Central Washington by stealing the ball back for the Bears. He added some storming runs, including a nifty spin move where he beat a defender for a breakaway try.
Senior number eight Jason Severance stood out as well, looking untacklable at times while adding some big hits defensively. Completing the unit, Nathan Zylstra was his usual self. He went under the radar with ball in hand, but he added contributions all over the field with his high work rate.
“Zylstra is the most active player on our team,” said head coach Jack Clark. “He gets through more hard work than anybody.”
Clark also mentioned Broekhuizen’s “penetrating runs” and Severance’s “explosive moments,” giving the whole back row credit for a great performance.
There were a few areas of the game where Cal struggled, keeping the scoreline closer than it could have been. The Bears struggled at times to claim kickoffs, and they muffed several of Central Washington’s restarts. One of them led directly to a try for the Wildcats, as an unclaimed bouncing ball found its way into the hands of a Central Washington player with room to run.
Cal also struggled with penalties, giving up numerous scoring opportunities by infringing at the breakdown and allowing Wildcats players to get over the ball. Impressive goal line defense and a host of lineout steals by Broekhuizen, and captain Sam Golla prevented Central Washington from capitalizing on these errors, but it still slowed the Bears’ offensive momentum.
“Too many penalties,” Clark said. “I don’t want to comment on the officiating — (the referee) tried his best.”
This was Cal’s second match against a top-1o team this season — and by far the most dominant. The blue and gold previously faced No. 6 BYU, barely escaping with a 24-21 win. Clark said, last week, he expected a physical performance from Central Washington, much like the Bears faced against the Cougars.
“I think we dealt with Central’s physicality better than we did with BYU,” Clark said.
The Bears have a visit to Salt Lake City up next, where they will play their final conference match of the season against the last-place Utes. No. 21 Utah has struggled this season, but it is still a top-25 team with a shot at a playoff spot if it can improve its ranking.
Clark said he expects the Utes to put up a fight because they are strong at home, and suggested that Cal may give some minutes to players who have not seen a lot of action this season.
This will be the Bears’ last warmup before they take on No. 2 St. Mary’s in their regular-season finale.
Cal rugby will be in action against Utah at 5:30 p.m. PST Saturday, March 19, on the road.