Just like any Northern California battle, Sunday's DI quarterfinal in Chula Vista, Calif. between NorCal rivals Olympic Club and the Sacramento Lions was an extremely physical encounter. Both teams laid hits that garnered reaction from the sidelines, but O-Club, 25-15 winners, made less mistakes during those violent collisions.
The chippy play for which NorCal is also known began directly after the opening whistle. Both sides were guilty of extracurricular hits and nudges, but the first bit of questionable play to garner a penalty was a bite.
An Olympic Club player showed bite marks to the referee, and though he didn't see the bite or know whose chompers were responsible for the teeth marks, he levied a penalty against the Lions. O-Club flyhalf Keegan Engelbrecht then slotted a penalty, putting the winged-O clad bunch up 3-0.
Shortly thereafter, O-Club No. 8 Kort Schubert was whistled for a penalty that triggered a discussion from the sir. Sacramento took a shot at the posts, but the kick sailed wide.
Engelbrecht used his boot much of the day to pin Sacramento deep in their own end, and a feisty O-Club defense put constant pressure on the Lions, forcing numerous knocks and turnovers.
After one of those knocks, O-Club was granted a five-meter scrum, off of which they swung the ball from one sideline to the other, putting inside center Matt Rose through for the match's first try. Engelbrecht converted.
Rose was delivered a massive hit on his next carry. The center was visibly shaken, and the tackle drew a loud reaction from the Sacramento sideline.
"I like it," said Rose of the heckling that came with being hit. "It gets me going, to be honest, so I welcome it."
Olympic Club seemed to have scored its second try in the same corner as the first, after a ball destined for touch was saved, landing in the hands of an O-Club prop who carried it into the tryzone, but the pass was called forward. On the ensuing scrum, the Olympic Club pack drove over Sacramento, forcing a collapse and winning their own put-in.
Schubert picked the ball from the base of the scrum, and when he saw pressure, dished it to a hard-streaking Rose, who scored his second try of the game, effectively responding to the guff the Sacramento sideline had given him after being waylaid earlier.
"Matt rose is a stud, and he doesn't back down," said O-Club coach Ray Lehner. "He's just a pretty tough customer. I never worry about him. He does take a lot of shots. That's standard fare for Northern California season. He gets 30 of those a year, so I'm really proud of how he responded."
O-Club extended its lead to 22-0 when Sacramento bobbled a kick in their own end zone, and Adam Mayer jumped on it for the try.
The Lions had been their own worst enemy to this point. They struggled to string long periods of possession together, because of balls lost forward in contact or knocked-on in the loose. They broke the gainline seemingly every time they touched the ball, but turnovers and penalties created opportunities for O-Club.
Just before the half, though, Leialoha Fotofili crashed through O-Club's defense off of a five-meter penalty play to put the Lions on the board going into intermission.
Engelbrecht opened the second half like the first, with a penalty, giving O-Club a 25-5 lead.
15 minutes later, the flyhalf cleared Olympic Club's lines with a kick, which was returned with a Sacramento boot. Fullback Ratu Rinakama, out of position, was within five meters of the ball when it landed, which should have triggered an offside call. However, no whistle blew, and after O-Club failed to secure possession, Anthony Burr was able to score a long try during the broken play, drawing Sacramento closer at 25-10.
The Lions didn't seriously threaten again until injury time, when Rinakama, who looked like a dangerous attacker all weekend, danced his way over 50 meters for an impressive solo try, bringing the final score to 25-15.
The win puts O-Club back in the semifinals for the first time since 2008. The San Francisco bunch considers itself a national title contender each year, and for only the second time in a decade, they're within a pair of wins of reaching their ultimate goal.
"It means a lot," said Rose of being back in the final four. "Every year we have such a strong team. We hate the term underachieving, and it's just sort of always at the back of your mind, so it's kind of like a monkey off your back. We just want to go and get it done, man. So (getting to the semifinals) is relief and it's jubilation."
Awaiting Olympic Club June 4 in Glendale, Colo. will be Midwest champs Palmer. The Dragons won their way into consecutive semifinals berths Sunday, defeating Mystic River 41-21.
Tries: Rose (2), Mayer
Cons: Engelbrecht (2)
Pens: Engelbrecht (2)
Tries: Fotofili, Burr, Rinakama