It took an epic comeback in the championship final over BYU for the California Golden Bears to win their first Varsity Cup, a competition that started in 2013, in program history last year. The Bears won their 2nd Varsity Cup, and 28th rugby 15s national championship, on Saturday afternoon in a much more straight forward fashion. Leading for the entire match since the 3rd minute try, the Bears defeated the Arkansas State Red Wolves via a 43-13 final score. Cal tied BYU for the most Varsity Cup titles (BYU had to vacate their 2015 title, so they only have two). The storied Cal Rugby program now have 32 total national championships in program history, counting the 4 rugby 7s national championship. Cal Athletics have earned the 96th team national title in school history.
Cal captain Russell Webb led the way for the Bears by scoring 18 points - one nifty try from a chase and a scoop, one penalty kick from 38 meter out, and 5 of 6 conversions (a few from tough angles) in addition to the pass to Aidan Flynn for the game breaking try just before the half.
Loosehead prop Kevin Sullivan was named the Man of the Match. He scored this hard fought try in the crucial 10 minutes stretch just before the half when the Bears pulled away.
Bears won this championship with a strong defense. An example was this great open field tackle from Jake Goena.
Freshman Sam Cusano scored 3 tries in this match, including the game opening one in the 3rd minute. Here is his 3rd one, with a great block from Sullivan.
Overall, the Bears scored 6 tries to the 2 allowed to Arkansas State. The Red Wolves have lost their first Varsity Cup final and 2nd national championship final in their program history.
After playing more freshman/sophomore than usual for the entire season, Golden Bears will return a still young but now experienced squad next year.
Bears did suffer an injury in this match as sophomore lock Robert Paylor was injured and had to be transported to the hospital. Head coach Jack Clark said post game, "I'm proud of our boys. They've shown significant improvement over the course of the campaign. Our excitement is tempered by Rob being in hospital. Our prayers are with him and his family."
The Scoring Timeline vs. Arkansas State
22:00 Arkansas State (Valentin Balande) 3
40:00 Aidan Flynn 5
Halftime Score: California 19, Arkansas State 3
51:00 Russell Webb 5, 2
61:00 Arkansas State (Sione Fangaiuiha) 5
63:00 Russell Webb 3
80:00 Arkansas State (Dylan Boast) 5
Final Score: California 43, Arkansas State 13
The Team vs. Arkansas State 15. Flynn (Thornton @ 56:00), 14. Goena, 13. Barrientes, 12. Salaber, 11. Cusano (Honens @ 56:00), 10. Webb, 9. Andrade, 1. Sullivan, 2. Ogburn, 3. Wiley (Zerbino @ 56:00), 4. Sweet, 5. Paylor (Bader @ 04:00, Damas @ 70:00) , 6. Spradling, 7. Mirhashem, 8. Gaffney
Golden Bears have a good shot to get that 33rd national championship next month when they go for a five-peat at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship - the national championship for rugby 7s. The Bears will be in action June 3rd and 4th from Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, PA just outside Philadelphia. NBC Sports Network and NBC should hopefully again have live coverage of that competition (none of these tape delayed nonsense).