Provo, UT – California fought back to tie the Varsity Cup National Championship with six minutes remaining on a try by Seamus Kelly and conversion by Jake Anderson before BYU flyhalf Jonny Linehan kicked a 17-meter drop goal at the end of injury time to win the Varsity Cup National Championship, 27-24, for the Cougars Saturday at South Field Stadium.
“We were confident we could have a stretch of play where we could get ourselves back in this game,” said Kelly. “There’s no panic in us and we’re capable of putting up a large number of points in a short amount of time, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Kelly’s try to knot the contest at 24-24 in the 74th minute was the Bears’ third of the afternoon, following tries by freshman flyhalf Russell Webb in the 34th minute and flanker Jack O’Beirne’s in the 62nd, while Jake Anderson converted all three(3-for-3) and added a penalty kick (1-for-3) for the Bears.
For BYU, Linehan scored a try which he converted (1-for-1) and added four penalty kicks (4-for-5) before his game-winning drop goal (1-for-1) earned the freshman MVP honors with 22 points scored.
“I was fortunate enough to put it through the posts, but I wouldn’t want to have to do it again,” said Linehan of his final kick.
BYU captain Ryan Roundy said Linehan’s game-winner was an ideal finish to his BYU career.
“To have a team like Cal on our home field and to be playing for the Varsity Cup is something you just never thought would happen,” said BYU senior captain Ryan Roundy, “And then to win this game the way we did. It’s going to take a while for it to really set in. I couldn’t ask to go out on a better note.”
Not evident in the scoring column on Saturday but obvious to the capacity crowd and online audience was the kind of intensity that only BYU and Cal can provide in American collegiate rugby. The Cougars sought to stymie Cal’s resolve to play fast, meeting the Bears’ midfield early and playing with characteristic physicality.
Anderson and Linehan traded midfield misses on penalty attempts in the first five minutes before the Cougars flyhalf put BYU on the board, 7-0, when he secured a squirrely ball and scored, then converted his own try.
Kelly barreled toward the try zone two minutes later but was held up in goal, and winger Josh Tucker soon followed with one of several breaks he made inside the BYU 22, ending with a Cougars penalty on which Anderson capitalized, putting the Bears on the board at 7-3.
Three made penalty kicks by Linehan opened up a 16-3 BYU lead until Webb tapped quickly and scored after another BYU penalty, and Anderson slotted the conversion from near the left touchline to make it 16-10.
Having made second-half performances their hallmark in key matches this spring, the Bears came out confident after the break, and a charge-down blocked kick by Kelly that led to a Cal scrum inside the BYU 22 seemed promising.
Scrumhalf Nicklas Boyer crashed through trying to reach the line, as did Anderson, but BYU held firm. Soon after, Linehan’s fourth penalty kick made it 19-10 in favor of the Cougars.
BYU kept pressing the Bears’ backline, and late tackle of Webb by Kyle Sumsion resulted in a yellow card for the Cougars flanker. Two minutes later, O’Beirne’s try was converted to make it a two-point game at 19-17.
The Cougars mounted more pressure that resulted in another yellow card, this time against Cal’s Tucker for what referee Brian Zapp ruled was a deliberate knock-on. One minute after Sumsion’s return gave BYU a man advantage, BYU lock TJ Allred scored a try that made it a 24-17 match with under 10 minutes to play.
Playing with courage at less than full strength, the Bears evened the contest on Kelly’s try, taking an offload from sophomore replacement center Jesse Milne and scoring between the posts to give Anderson the best chance possible to tie it up, which he did.
Brigham Young threatened to score a try as the clock wound down but Cougars captain Ryan Roundy was held up in goal by Cal. The Bears kept defending but couldn’t reach Linehan as he set up behind the breakdown as time expired, and his drop goal was immediately followed by the final whistle.
“At the end of the day we weren’t as accurate as we needed to be. Had we been, I think we could have put in a better performance,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark. “This said, I thought BYU was very good today and very deserving of the victory.
BYU head coach David Smyth was similarly complimentary of the Cougars’ noted rival.
“I knew this game was going to come down to the wire,” said BYU head coach David Smyth, “Cal is a great team. You don’t win as many championships as they [Cal] have and not have the ability to battle like they did. Both teams had their moments. But fortunately for us, we had just one more than they did.”
With the conclusion to the Varsity Cup National Championship Smyth said the caliber of today’s match testifies to the growth of collegiate rugby and the ability for college rugby to help grow the game at large in the USA.
“The crowd, the broadcast and the events surrounding today’s Varsity Cup National Championship shows we’re moving this sport in the right direction,” Smyth said, “If today’s game is an example of things to come for the Varsity Cup, then I’m excited to see where it and collegiate rugby can go.”
Saturday’s battle was the third championship meeting between Cal and BYU to be decided by only three points. The Bears took the 2006 title, 29-26, and the Cougars won the 2009 final, 25-22.
A replay of the 2013 Varsity Cup National Championship will be available at YouTube.com/VarsityCupRugby, where fans can re-live the excitement that only comes from the meeting of the best.
The Scoring Summary:
11:00 Jonny Linehan 5, 2
17:00 CAL: Jake Anderson 3
18:00 Jonny Linehan 3
22:00 Jonny Linehan 3
26:00 Jonny Linehan 3
34:00 CAL: Russell Webb 5, Jake Anderson 2
Halftime Score: BYU 16 California 10
57:00 Jonny Linehan 3
62:00 CAL: Jack O’Beirne 5, Jake Anderson 2
71:00 TJ Allred 5
74:00 CAL: Seamus Kelly 5, Jake Anderson 2
80:00 Jonny Linehan 3 (drop goal)
Final Score: BYU 27, California 24
15. Will Taylor, 14. Chris Wernli (Andrew Carver @ 78:00), 13. Paul Lasike, 12. Seki Kofe, 11. Jordan Lowry, 10. Jonny Linehan, 9. Luke Mocke, 1. David Collins, 2. Scott Gowdy, 3. Ray Forrester, 4. TJ Allred, 5. Braden Bair (Dan Hubert @ 70:00), 6. Kody Thompson, 7. Kyle Sumsion, 8. Ryan Roundy ©
15. Anderson, 14. Tucker, 13. Kelly ©, 12. Braun (Milne @ 67:00), 11. Battaglia (Adolphus @ 76:00), 10. Webb, 9. Boyer, 1. Mohr, 2. Hyjer, 3. Hurrell, 4. Barrett, 5. Daly, 6. O’Beirne (Hendrickson @ 77:00), 7. Gletzer, 8. De Nysschen (Bush @ 70:00)