Final Recap: BYU Reclaim Varsity Cup Crown!

In the third installment of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup, BYU bested Cal 30-27 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The Cougars jumped out to an early lead, and despite a couple of surges from the Golden Bears, held on to win their third consecutive Varsity Cup championship.

The teams traded field possession early in the game but it was ultimately a handling error that paved the way for the first score of the game. Cal botched a crash ball in its own territory and Seki Kofe pounced on the loose ball and punished the mistake with a try untouched under the posts.

The boys in black extended the advantage after a well-earned turnover. The man whose mother traveled all the way from New Zealand to see the match, Ara Elkington, stripped the ball and sent BYU counterattacking down the field. BYU earned a penalty at the breakdown and Johnny Linehan slotted it in to increase the lead to 10-0.

Cal earned its first points of the day after BYU was pinged for not rolling away at the breakdown. That would be a repeating theme as BYU would eventually lose prop Zane Menhendall to a yellow card from a similar infraction. In the 15th minute, Jake Anderson nailed the kick to cut the BYU lead to 10-3.

The Golden Bears began to earn some momentum, spending a majority of the remainder of the first half in BYU territory. However, several knock ons and slow ball stymied the Cal attack.

One of Cal’s handling errors resulted in a scrum inside the BYU half. The Cougars won the scrum and swung it wide to Josh Whippy, who split two defenders and found a streaking Josh Anderson for a try down the sideline. Linehan slotted the conversion to extend the lead to 17-3.

Cal responded with a bit of resurgence but still struggled to find points. Russell Webb broke the line and got the Bears within the 5-meter line. Solid defense from BYU, however, kept Cal at bay.

Minutes later, Cal earned another 5-meter penalty and instead of opting for points, decided to run the ball. Despite repelling the Cal attack, referee Kurt Weaver awarded Cal another penalty and sent Mendehall to the sin bin. Despite being at 14 players, and needing a front row sub, BYU kept Cal off the scoreboard and took a 17-3 going into the break.

The second half started with Cal still retaining a man advantage, and the Golden Bears were finally able to break down the BYU defense. Weaver awarded a penalty to Cal for offsides at a maul. Paul Bosco, took a quick tap from 5-meters out, stepped a defender, and dove in for the try. With the conversion, BYU led 17-10.

Cal took over the early stages of the second half, putting BYU on its heels. Like BYU in the first half, Cal scored an impressive try off a scrum. Jake Anderson darted down the sideline, fended off two defenders and powered through a tackle to touch down in the corner. Anderson missed the conversion, however, leaving Cal two points behind.

Near the 60th minute, BYU stemmed the tide, getting a penalty from Johnny Linehan. The New Zealander was perfect with the boot all day, nailing several tough kicks and setting up a try with cross field kick. Linehan found Jared Whippy with a perfectly placed cross-field kick to extend the lead to 27-15.

The Golden Bears refused to quit, however, scoring almost immediately after conceding a try. Cal recovered the ensuing kickoff and Anderson chipped a kick behind the BYU defense. The ball bounced off of BYU player and Cal recovered the ball. Michael Bush found an open gap around the fringe of the ruck to cut the lead to 27-20.

Linehan once again made it a two score game, but Cal kept its foot on the gas. Despite a number of knock-ons in BYU territory, Cal desperately tried to break down the BYU defense. Rather than try to run out the clock, BYU elected to kick for field position. The Bears swung the rock wide, and Harry Adolphus beat a man to the outside and found an oncoming Anthony Salabar back in field. The center slipped a defender and with the conversion, Cal trailed 30-27.

With five minutes to play, Cal tried desperately to tie up the game. Cal earned a penalty for a double move and Adolphus sent the Bears into BYU territory with a lineout. Up until this point the Bears were a perfect 11 for 11 on lineouts. However, Cal was unable to corral its 12th lineout and a scrum was awarded to BYU.

BYU worked the fringes for the remaining minutes and when the clock hit 80 minutes the Cougars kicked for touch. However, BYU did not heed the referees warning in the prior scrum that additional time would be added for time wasted.

Thus, Cal had one last opportunity at a lineout in BYU territory. The Golden Bears tried to attack wide but in all to similar fashion the ball was knocked on.

The final whistle blew with BYU earning a 30-27 victory and its third straight Penn Mutual Varsity Cup Title.

Photo Credit: Kristin Murphy/Deseret News