The Bears are going to the big one.
Saturday afternoon in Berkeley, Cal rugby faced off against BYU for a chance to play in the D1A National Collegiate Rugby Championship. Thanks to a second-half surge, the blue and gold sealed the win over the Cougars 55-31 and advanced to play Navy in the championship game.
For Cal, Saturday’s performance was just another installment in an impressive postseason run. The Bears opened the game with two tries to go out 12-0. BYU, in an attempt to keep pace, quickly tied it at 12 apiece with two straight tries of its own.
Turnovers and mistakes slowed down the first half for the Bears. Despite the hot start, the blue and gold had to settle for a 19-19 tie heading into halftime. The traveling Cougars made a great effort to stymie the Cal attack, and the formidable BYU offense seemed to have the Bears’ defense figured out.
But, as the Bears came back onto the field for the final frame of the semifinal game, the script flipped. 15 minutes into the second half, Cal finally broke through for a try to take the lead, 26-19 — one it wouldn’t relinquish.
At this point, the dam had broken, and a deluge of blue and gold points followed. Within 10 minutes of the first points of the second half, the Bears found pay dirt two more times to double up on BYU, 38-19. In the ensuing possession after going up three scores, senior Max Schumacher knocked in a drop goal to put the game on ice with a 22-point lead, 41-19.
BYU was able to find two more tries before the end of the match, one at the buzzer, but this was Cal’s day.
“I’m proud of the guys, I thought that we had a good plan coming in,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “They held their nerve, they did a lot of the hard parts of the game pretty well today.”
Saturday’s win was revenge for the Bears’ regular-season loss to BYU, and it brings the Cal rugby program one step closer to a championship season.
The Bears advance to play Navy. The undefeated Midshipmen held on for a close win in the Rugby East Conference, defeating Lindenwood 12-10.
The last time Navy and Cal met was during the regular season. March, the Bears fell to the Mids on the road, 28-33, in a close game. This time around, both teams will have to travel. The D1A championship game will be the headliner at the CRAA 2023 Championship Weekend at Aveva Stadium in Houston, Texas. The neutral site could bode well for the Bears, whose fans have continued to travel well throughout the season.
“They’ve been the No. 1 team in the nation from wire to wire,” Clark said of the matchup against Navy. “We’ve been in that position before. They are a very good team. Good in the forwards and cause a lot of problems. We’ll make a plan and see how we go.”
The Bears will have a bye week before traveling to Houston. The extra time will give Cal the chance to head into its showdown with Navy in the best position possible. The blue and gold will also be able to get healthy, a stark contrast from the injury-filled regular season.
And in the championship game against Navy, the Bears will look to take full advantage of their biggest opportunity of the year.
“I told them afterward that we can play better, we left some tries unscored today and if we’re going to be able to ring the bell we’re going to have to take advantage of every opportunity we have,” Clark said.
Cal takes on Navy for the D1A National Collegiate Rugby Championship on May 6.