For the 5th straight year, California Golden Bears will be playing in the CRC final. Bears defeated Indiana 29-14, turning a close 12-7 lead into an easy 29-14 win. Hoosiers’ lone try and conversion came in stoppage time when this match has already been decided.
Golden Bears will face Life in the final. Life defeated Lindenwood (from Missouri) 24-14; Lindenwood were the USA Rugby College 7s champions from two weeks ago. This final will be a rematch of the 2013 championship final (my first one, as well as the first one for the trio of 5th year seniors in Russell Webb, Anthony Salaber, and Patrick Barrientes). Bears escaped Life by a 19-17 score (final score closer due to a stoppage time score, if I recall correctly). That match will be on NBC at around 1:30 pm PT.
Make that 30 consecutive CRC wins for the Golden Bears (that streak started with a Bronze medal win over Life in 2012). Senior Russell Webb also made two more conversions (he did miss 3 in this one) to increase his CRC record.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!
UPDATE AFTER QUARTERFINAL:
Up by only 2 points with 2.5 minutes or so left in the match, Cal Bears had the ball deep in their own territory. A careless knock on turnover or worse an intercepted pass may mean a Kutztown win. Facing a rare pressure situation at the CRC (possibly since the 2015 final against these Kutztown Golden Bears, the Cal Bears played with the calmness of the champions. A Kutztown player kicked the ball ahead. Cal captain Russell Webb ran after the ball. Knowing that he likely can’t pick the ball up in time, Webb hit the haphazardly spinning and bouncing ball back toward a teammate. Bears passed the ball back from the left side toward the right. Zachary Tavenner saw some space and got free to score an uncontested try right down the middle. Webb makes the conversion and the Golden Bears are up by two scores 19-10, which was also the final score. Make that 29 straight Cal Rugby wins (and counting) at the CRC.
Surviving this battle of the Golden Bears, Cal will next play the Indiana Hoosiers, who have looked surprisingly great so far at the CRC. Hoosiers defeated Kutztown 29-19 yesterday to win their pool. They eliminated UCLA 24-12 in their quarterfinal which followed the Cal-Kutztown bout.
Indiana has a transfer from Arizona in Tyler Sousley that gives the Hoosiers another weapon. Flyhalf Teddy Terezis and wing Jake Hidalgo are names to know. Brian Hannon in the middle is the de facto QB of the Hoosiers attack.
It is no surprise that the California Golden Bears Rugby squad is back in the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s knockout round on Sunday. In the 8 year history of the CRC (dating back to 2010 when the first year took place in Columbus, OH before moving to the Philadelphia suburb), Golden Bears have never lost a Saturday pool play match (that’s 24-0).
Of course, the competition level is greatly increased on Sundays since college rugby is still dominated by only a few teams, with the most storied side being the Cal Bears. Although the 2017 Bears’ inexperience was at time evident on Saturday, particularly early in the first two matches against Clemson and then Penn State, Cal earned the top seed for Sunday based on the best point differential of +84.
In this Olympic format of rugby, the quick pace (only 7 minutes per half) is a great equalizer. One missed tackle here is enough to spot 7 points to an opponent. With this in mind, it is extra impressive that the Cal Bears have managed to win 28 straight matches at the CRC dating back to the (now defunct) Bronze medal win over Life in 2012 followed by 4 consecutive CRC titles (a 6-0 run each). This year, all 8 quarterfinal teams look capable of lifting that Pete Dawkins trophy at the end of the afternoon.
2nd seed for Sunday is CRC newcomer but established rugby powerhouse in Cal’s East Bay neighbor St. Mary’s College (3-0). They have the 2nd best point differential with +67. Taking the 3rd seed is another CRC newcomer in Lindenwood, who last week won the USA Rugby 7s national championship over SMC, with a PD of +60. The only other 3-0 team on Saturday is a surprising Indiana Hoosiers squad (PD of +52).
Also in the knock out stage is the 2016 CRC runner-up, the Baby Bears aka Bruins of UCLA (2-0-1) who won its pool and had a PD of +31. Winning its pool due to the PD tiebreaker is Arkansas State, who lost to the Golden Bears in the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup rugby 15s national championship final last month. The Red Wolves (2-0-1) has a point differential of +24 which is 5 points better than Life University (2-0-1). Arkansas State and Life played to somewhat uninspired 17-17 draw in their final match of pool play.
The team with the 2nd best point differential will actually be the 8th seed (last spot in the quarterfinal) - the Kutztown Golden Bears (2-1). After two dominant victories over Tennessee and South Carolina, the Kutztown lost their final match to Indiana. The punishment for Kutztown and an unfortunate draw for California is that the two sides both known as Golden Bears will play each other first thing on Sunday morning in the championship quarterfinal.
Cal vs. Kutztown
Kutztown is not a well known school, but if you have followed the Cal Bears at the CRC for the past few years, they are a very familiar foe. From Berks County, PA (a rural area in Western Pennsylvania), Kutztown is a public school that has a huge supporting crowd in the stands for every CRC.
Cal defeated Kutztown 24-21 in the 2014 CRC final. The rematch in the 2015 CRC final required a “walk-off” sudden death try by Jake Anderson in overtime for a Cal 17-12 victory. The 2015 CRC, by the way, is the only one of the 4 rugby 7s championship that current Cal captain Russell Webb missed (due to an injury). Last year, Kutztown made the semifinal only to lose to the UCLA Bruins.
On Saturday, Kutztown routed South Carolina (36-0) and Tennessee (49-0) before suffering a 19-29 loss (margin only looked this good thanks to a stoppage time try and conversion by Kutztown) to Indiana. Against a better team like Indiana, Kutztown did not look very strong. They were rather tentative in their attacks and unsure in their defense in that loss.
The two main stars for Kutztown are seniors Alex Faison-Donahoe (former football wide receiver) and Vetekina (Kina) Malafu. Both have that explosiveness that will be hard to contain. Malafu is a particularly well known playmaker; he’s to the Kutztown Golden Bears what Russell Webb is to the California Golden Bears. Their freshman newcomer Dmontae Noble is supposedly an X-factor type of runner, according to the CRC program.
7 AM PT: No.1 Cal 19, No.8 Kutztown 10
7:20 AM PT: No.4 Indiana 24, No.5 UCLA 12
7:40 AM PT: No.2 Saint Mary’s 5, No.7 Life 7
8 AM PT: No.3 Lindenwood 12, No.6 Arkansas State 0
10:49 AM PT: Cal 29, Indiana 14 (live on NBCSN)
11:11 AM PT: Life 24, Lindenwood 14 (live on NBCSN)
1:26 PM PT: Cal vs. Life (live on NBC)
Cal 33, Clemson 12
The Clemson actually opened this match with the first score before the Golden Bears equalized on Jake Goena try (Webb conversion). Clemson again went ahead but missed the conversion. Connor Sweet scored in the stoppage time before the half and Russell Webb’s conversion puts the Bears up 14-12 at the half.
After the slow start to their 2017 CRC, 2nd half was all Golden Bears. Sam Cusano used his speed on the outside to score a try. Patrick Barrientes found an opening and scored a try. Webb then juked around 3-4 exhausted Clemson defenders to walk in for a final try.
[By the way, I was wrong on Twitter about the score of this one - missed a Webb conversion.]
This was the Cal lineup vs. Clemson
1. Sweet, 2. Goena, 3. Salaber, 4. R. Webb, 5. Barrientes, 6. Flynn, 7. Cusano
Replacements: Dyer, Gaffney, Tavenner, Fuller
Cal 28, Penn State 19
Russell Webb scored quickly for the Bears but Penn State answered right away. Jake Goena then took advantage and scored two tries before the half (Webb’s conversions good) for a Cal 21-12 lead. In the second half, Sam Cusano scored another try but Penn State fought hard for both a conventional try and a stoppage time try when the Bears was short handed due to a yellow card.
This was the Cal lineup vs. Penn State
1. Gaffney, 2. Mirhashem, 3. Salaber, 4. R Webb, 5. Barrientes, 6. Goena, 7. Cusano
Replacement: Flynn, Tavenner
Cal 54, Delaware 0
Knowing that they would need a good score differential to get the top seed (which in retrospect may not be that much of an advantage), Bears showed no mercy to an overmatched Delaware Blue Hens side.
7 different Golden Bears scored a try (Webb, Aidan Flynn x2, Christian Dyer, Anthony Salaber, William Fuller, Patrick Barrientes, Zachary Tavenner) with Webb making 7 of 8 conversions.
This was the Cal lineup vs. Delaware
1. Dyer, 2. Barrientes, 3. Salaber, 4. Tavenner, 5. R. Webb, 6. Flynn, 7. Fuller
Replacements: Sweet, Gaffney, Mirhashem
5th year senior Russell Webb came into the 2017 CRC with a record 38 conversions made. He added 15 on Saturday out of 17 attempts for a total of 53 (and counting).
Cal Tries on Saturday (17 total):
Webb (3), Goena (3), Cusano (2), Barrientes (2), Flynn (2), Sweet (1), Dyer (1), Salaber (1), Fuller(1), Tavenner (1)
2017 Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship
Where: Talen Energy Park (Chester, PA)
When: June 3rd (pool play) and June 4th (knockout stage)
10-12 PT on NBCSN with 12-2 PT on NBC (live semifinal and final action after tape delayed quarterfinal)
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!