by Brett Anker
Cal overcame an early first half deficit to defeat tough Army squad 41-29 in the quarterfinals of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup. A pair of late first half tries and a strong second half propelled the Golden Bears into the semifinals.
This contest was incredibly physical from the get go. Both packs refused to give in to one another throughout the course of the match, pummeling the fringes to create space for their respective backlines.
“We knew coming into this game that these were a lot of stout tough guys. We have nothing but the utmost respect for these guys and this university and so that we knew that they were going to be tough and stout. We had to prepare for that and they gave us a real physical game,” said Cal match day captain Scott Walsh.
Army got on the board first off a lineout inside the Cal 22. Flanker Andrew Irwin powered his way over after peeling off the back of a maul. The West Point set piece was excellent all afternoon, leading to a number of well-worked scores.
Cal bounced back after the Army score. The Bears monopolized possession for the next 10 minutes, pressing inside the Army 22. After making several goal line stands, the Black Knights defense finally broke, and Russell Webb scurried over for a 7-7 tie.
The ensuing kickoff bounced off the arms of a Cal player and immediately Army went into the ascendency. West Point attacked back and forth against the Cal defense and ultimately found an overload outwide and winger Joseph Dlugosch capped it off with a score in the corner.
Army added two more scores to increase the lead to 22-7 in the 33rd minute. Jake Lachina broke through the Cal line off a scrum. The speedy fullback went on one with the fullback. As he was being dragged down he offloaded to an oncoming Andrew Yoon for a score under the posts. Mitch Sanderson scored a forward’s try five minutes later to increase the lead.
“We were our own worst enemy for so much of the game. We had to really bare down to win the game,” said Cal coach Jack Clark. You give West Point a lot of credit for that. Army was strong and they played some good rugby.”
Cal righted the ship towards the end of the first half. Lachina made a tremendous tackle on the try line pulling his man into touch, but Cal’s Nic Mirhashem intercepted the lineout and dove over to cut the lead to 22-14.
The Golden Bears got on the board again right before halftime. Russell Webb kicked a turnover ball ahead. Anthony Salabar ran onto it and booted it ahead once more. The big center got a nice bounce and without breaking stride, scooped the ball and ran around the fullback. Lachina made a nice recovery tackle, and batted the ball backwards on an attempted offload. The ball bounced and Webb fell on it under the posts to make the game 22-21 going into the break.
Harry Adolphus gave Cal its first lead of the day shortly into the second half. The fullback nailed the conversion to give Cal a 28-22 lead.
Army struck back 10 minutes later via Andrew Borer. The fly half had a strong game distributing and with the boot, but this time he backed himself. Cutting back inside on the Cal defense, Borer slithered through under the posts to regain the lead for Army 29-28.
Cal slowly took over the game from this point on, however. The Golden Bears upped the intensity and speed of play. Even an extremely fit Army struggled to keep pace and eventually the defensive line broke. After passing up a number of kickable penalties, Connor Sweet powered his way over for what would turn out to be the game winning score.
In the 70th minute Cal got the insurance try it was seeking through Salabar. Army got deep in Cal territory in the final minutes but a turnover at the goal line stymied any chance of West Point coming back from the two score deficit. The Bears added a penalty at the death to finish 41-29.
Army gave Cal all it could handle and coach Matt Sherman was very positive about his team’s performance.
“I could not be more proud of this team. I have never been more proud of a team I have coached than these boys right now,” said Sherman. “This senior class, they are just outstanding in how much they have improved this year.”
Cal will move on to play Central Washington in the semifinals next weekend.