by Brett Anker
Cal defeated BYU 40-29 in the final of the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup to claim its first ever Varsity Cup title. After falling in the last three Varsity Cup finals to the Cougars, Cal overcame some tremendous obstacles to capture the title. The Golden Bears shattered BYU’s two year unbeaten streak and even more impressive, went in to Provo Utah and one on South Field, a place where BYU had never lost.
BYU got a perfect bounce on a short kickoff and nearly broke through in the opening seconds. The Cougars immediately got in the 22-meter line but Cal withstood the pressure and kicked out of trouble after a knock.
After several penalties sending possession back and forth, Cal nearly struck first. The Golden Bears stole the ball at the breakdown inside the BYU 22 and send it wide through the hands. Patrick Barrientes busted through a half gap but was brought down three feet from the line. Barrientes got to his feet but was held in the tackle and a penalty was awarded to the Cougars.
The home side faced some adversity early, losing captain Ara Elkington to a bloody eye and winger Kevin Schoefield to a head injury. Adding to the injury issues, BYU failed to reach touch on several penalties, giving Cal ample attacking opportunities. One of those penalties finally cost BYU. Scott Walsh picked up an unpressured knock and was taken down inside the 22. Cal sprung the ball left and outnumbered the BYU defense for a Lucas Dunne score. The conversion was missed and Cal led 5-0.
BYU continued to struggle with continuity but ultimately broke through 20 minutes in. Alex Vorster fended off a Cal tackler. He drew the fullback and offloaded to an oncoming Zach Weber for a try under the posts. Calvin Whiting nailed the kick to give BYU a 7-5 lead.
The Cougars started firing and got another try a few minutes later. Scrumhalf Luke Mocke backed himself with a dummy to gain a few meters. With a pair of tacklers on him, the South African popped a pass to number 8 Joe Pikula. The monster backrower busted through the line and off loaded to the recently returned Elkington for a 14-5 lead.
Cal stymied the BYU momentum at the 30-minute mark. Anthony Salabar broke a few tackles to get deep inside the BYU 22. Scrumhalf Nickolas Boyer picked and nearly found the edge, but with hands on him, popped the ball back inside to cutting winger Zachary Tavenner. The winger went in untouched to make the game 14-12.
The next scoring opportunity came when Vorster ran over a Cal player off a lineout. The ball went through hands but Cal’s Connor Sweet intercepted a pass near the goal line to save a try. The Cougars stayed inside Cal territory but a number of knock-ons prevented the Cougars from extending the lead. The game went into the break 14-12 in favor of BYU.
After several kicks exchanging possession to start the second half, BYU looked to be in trouble inside its own 22. The ball was bouncing around but Whiting scooped it up, overpowered a defender and busted through the Cal line to midfield. A high tackle penalty gave Whiting a chance at goal but the kicked missed left.
BYU struck first in the second minutes later, however. Off a scrum the Cougars broke through out wide and offloaded inside to Ryan Blaser. Blaser pushed his way over in the corner to extend the lead to 21-12.
The Cougars extended their lead minutes later. After a knock-on at the goal line prevented a try, Whiting added a penalty to increase the lead to 24-12.
Cal would not go away, however. Dunne found space out wide and after being tackled, BYU was pinged for a penalty. Boyer quick tapped and found Andrew Bush who broke a tackle and scored a try. Boyer missed the conversion and it was 24-19.
Turnovers hurt the Golden Bears minutes later. Cal coughed the ball up and the Cougars quickly spun the ball wide right. Fullback Tua Laei found spacer out wide and sprinted his way to the pylon for a 29-19 lead.
Cal misfired on several opportunities to score in the following minutes. Flyhalf Russell Webb missed a clear break with a poor pass and Boyer missed a penalty that would have cut it to a one score game.
The Bears finally broke though the 70th minute. Jake Goena nearly scored off a line out but was taken down just short. Cal recycled and spun the ball left to Anthony Salabar. BYU ran out of defenders and the big center walked in for the score. Russell Webb tallied the kick to cut the game to 29-26 with 10 minutes to play.
The boys from Berkeley took the lead nearly a minute later. Getting deep in BYU territory off a penalty, the Bears drover a maul near the goal line. Boyer picked off the back of the ruck and scored untouched to take a 33-29 lead.
The Golden Bears sealed the game with less than five minutes to play. Off a lineout once again, the visitors powered over the line via a maul with Boyer getting his second of the day.
Cal dominated BYU in the line out and that was really the difference in the second half. Overall, Cal capitalized on a number of BYU errors and dominated the final quarter of the game to capture its first Penn Mutual Varsity Cup title.