Bears survive late Wildcats flurry, advance to semifinals

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Eran Kohen Behar/Staff

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It was not always pretty for the Bears on Saturday. Cal rugby turned the ball over, struggled at the scrum for stretches and gave away numerous penalties. But at the end of the day, only one outcome truly matters from the West Region National Quarterfinals.

The Bears will play in the semifinals.

Central Washington put up a fight against No. 1-seeded Cal, but it was not enough to avoid a 43-26 loss. The blue and gold put together moments of brilliance in the first half, especially, with most of them culminating in fifth-year wing Marcus Shankland touching down in the corner. This was enough to build a 33-5 halftime lead — a gap that would narrow but never close.

Shankland finished the first half with a hat trick, and he added a fourth try after intercepting a Central Washington pass deep in Cal territory and returning it the length of the field for a Bears’ try. It was his first game back after partially tearing his hamstring against Arizona.

“I just like doing everything I can for the team: It’s always nice to contribute,” Shankland said. “It’s a team sport, so I don’t really get the opportunity to score unless the boys on the inside are doing their jobs.”

Around the midway point in the second half, the momentum of the match began to shift in Central Washington’s favor. The Wildcats scored three tries in the last 20 minutes, including an incredible score set up by sophomore flyhalf Jack Tregoning.

Tregoning put a low, bouncing kick along the ground — a tactic called a grubber — through a gap in the Cal defensive line and recovered the kick himself before making a Bear defender miss to break into open field. He then grubbered again, this time targeting it toward the sideline, where freshman fullback Drew Farrington collected the perfectly weighted kick for a try.

The late flurry was not enough to overcome Cal’s lead, but it gives the team some things to think about heading into its semifinal match against rival Saint Mary’s.

“It was not our best performance,” said head coach Jack Clark. “We got some good bounces — some of it was just the rub of the green.”

Clark said the team struggled with the referee and expressed frustration with Cal’s penalty count. As far as positives are concerned, he complimented fifth-year captain Sam Golla, fifth-year hooker Jack Manzo, senior scrumhalf Henry Poon and the deep three trio of Shankland, Nick Bloom and Max Schumacher on good performances.

Golla said he was happy to get a win in a hard-fought game but added that he felt they were their “own worst enemies” at times, particularly in the second half. He also addressed the issues at the scrum, explaining that the loss of senior lock Max Murphy to injury may have been part of the problem.

“Overall, the mentality around that set piece might have been our biggest fault for that game and is something we’re going to need to improve on come next weekend,” Golla said.

After beating BYU in a tight 24-22 match, St. Mary’s will visit Witter Rugby Field for the second time in the last month for the West Region National Semifinals. The champion of Cal versus St. Mary’s will go on to play the winner of Lindenwood versus Army in Houston for a Division IA national championship.

Maxfield Mullins covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].