The No. 3 California Golden Bears (15-1, 4-0 PAC) scored 19 unanswered points in the second half to take down the No. 1 Saint Mary’s Gaels (16-1, 6-0 California), 29-19, Saturday. California junior scrumhalf Keanu Andrade’s try in the 55th minute kicked off the come-from-behind rally for the Golden Bears, allowing them to chip away at their 11-point deficit and end the regular season on a winning note.
As expected from the sold-out crowd gathered at Witter Rugby Field, California and Saint Mary’s played a close first half. The two Bay Area sides traded possessions in a tit-for-tat until the final minutes before intermission.
Damon Wiley, the junior prop for California, scored a go-ahead try in the 37th minute, but the 10-5 lead would be short-lived. In a lapse of judgment for the Golden Bears, Saint Mary’s senior eight-man Viliami Helu intercepted a lineout throw and drew a penalty in the following play. The Gaels earned a penalty try and converted a kick in the 40th minute to earn a 12-10 advantage at the half.
“We stuck to it and stayed collected, but we have a lot to work on,” Wiley said after the match in a prepared statement.
But the momentum never went the Gaels’ way.
Skipper Nic Mirhashem recorded a try for his side in the 69th minute to recapture the lead for California, while Wiley put a nice exclamation mark with his 78th minute addition. Successful conversion kicks by freshman flyhalf Sam Walsh, the only two for California this match, iced the victory for the home side.
With the victory over their Bay Area rivals, California claims a top seed in the postseason Division 1-A National Collegiate Championships. The Golden Bears won the PAC conference the previous weekend in a 55-13 decision over the Arizona Wildcats.