San Diego State and UC-Santa Barbara will meet in the much-anticipated Pacific Mountain West final April 14 at UCSB after beating Univ. San Diego and Claremont Colleges, respectively, Saturday in the semifinal round.
The Aztecs hung 41 points on their cross-town rivals, while only conceding five. UCSB won by a large margin, 53-21, but were tied 14-14 at halftime.
There was a heavy wind in Santa Barbara, and the Dragons had it to their backs in the opening half.
“Claremont did a good job of pinning us back with that wind. We knew the wind was going to be an issue, so our goal the first half was to try and keep the game as close as we could in the first half,” UCSB coach Kevin Battle said.
The Gauchos scored first, with a converted Johnny Prickett try, and Claremont responded with two of their own. Just before intermission, Prickett scored his second try to level the score.
In the second half, UCSB win John Gallo took over, slotting a pair of penalty goals and dotting down two tries.
“Our outside backs got the ball in some space and Johnny Gallo created some magic,” said Battle of the second half.
“John Gallo is pretty amazing. He only scored two tries, but he set up a couple of more. He played exceptional on the day.”
The Pacific Mountain West title match will determine which heavyweight gets an automatic bid to the Sweet 16, while the runner up will be left hoping for one of three at-large bids to be doled out later this month by the competitions committee.
Asked if he thought one of those bids should go to the Pacific Mountain West runner up, Battle (who sits on the committee) said it should.
“I think we have a strong competition, and we have two really strong teams in Santa Barbara and San Diego State, so hopefully others around the country see it that way as well,” said Battle.
“I think it would be a shame for either one of us to miss out on the Round of 16. We’ve got two strong programs that have been playing really well. So far, the only difference between us and San Diego State has been one try.”
In their first meeting, also in Santa Barbara, the Gauchos beat the Aztecs 21-14.