BERKELEY - Led by four tries by captain Seamus Kelly, California defeated the United States Naval Academy, 74-6, in the Varsity Cup National Championships Semifinals Saturday on Witter Rugby Field in the final home game for the Golden Bears' graduating seniors. Cal will face BYU Saturday, May 4, at 1 p.m. MT for the national championship.
A capacity crowd enjoyed the pageantry of a sparkling afternoon in Strawberry Canyon as the Bears got 12 tries from eight players in total, including pairs from flankers Alec Gletzer and Jack O'Beirne. Freshman Harry Adolphus contributed a try in his start at fullback and added five conversions (5-for-5) after taking over those duties from Jake Anderson (2-of-7) in the second half.
Navy, which scored its points on two penalty kicks by second-year flyhalf Jack McAuliffe (2-for-3), ends its season at 9-2 overall (7-0 Atlantic Coast), while the Bears displayed a commitment to defense that matched their offensive output and earned the team a trip to the title game next Saturday with an overall record of 21-0 (5-0 PAC).
Cal passed the test Saturday with a rejiggered young backline that stood tall against the disciplined Midshipmen. Sophomore Nicklas Boyer, who faced off against Navy No. 9 Broderick Neelfeller, spun the ball out to Anderson in his first start at flyhalf, where he went opposite the dangerous McAuliffe. Cal's fullback responsibilities transferred to Adolphus while sophomore Jesse Milne made his first start at inside center. Sophomore Andrew Battaglia at one wing made it a predominantly frosh-soph set of backs for the Bears.
Along with these young players were some old stalwarts in blue and gold making their last appearances as players on Witter Rugby Field. Playing their final home matches on Saturday were hooker Grant Hyjer, tighthead prop J.P. Hurrell and locks Danny Barrett and Brendan Daly, who were joined by Lyall Davenport came when he replaced Hurrell and Tyler Fach when he came in for Barrett.
Said Barrett, who received a big ovation to culminate his family's last home match after nine years as Rugby Bears combined with his brothers, Jim and Neill, "It's kind of sad leaving Witter Rugby Field for the last time as a player, but it's been such a cool thing to have been a part of this program here with my brothers. We're going to give it all we've got against BYU and it's going to be a great game."
"After four years out year, it felt really exciting to put in a good body of work today," added Daly. "It was excitement not only for the guys graduating, but the whole team supporting us as well." He called the Cal-BYU matchup next week "something I've always wanted to play my entire career."
Adolphus said he could feel the gravity of Saturday's finale for Cal's graduating seniors and wanted to deliver a good performance for them. "All the guys leaving have been fantastic to play with and it was important personally to play well for them. There's no shortage of respect for Navy either."
"We have nothing but respect and admiration for the Naval Academy team," concurred Cal head coach Jack Clark.
The Middies took an early 3-0 lead in the third minute when McAuliffe connected from 15 meters following a Cal penalty, but Kelly's first try gave the Bears a lead they would never relinquish. O'Beirne scored his first try and, after the Navy's flyhalf connected on his second kick to make it a 12-6 ballgame, the Bears went on a 65-0 scoring tear to run away with the semifinal.
"We know what they do, but we weren't prepared for them to do it quite as well as they did," said Navy head coach Mike Flanagan. "We worked really hard to play or scheme and our style, but Cal did a great job defensively and that's the tale of the tape right there."
Outside center Nick Hancock, who also played his final collegiate match on Saturday, said, "We're obviously very frustrated but the level of respect between these two teams is really high."
Fans who were unable to enjoy the match in person were treated to a live webcast of the event at Pac-12.com, where an archive of the game will be available in replay at http://video.pac-12.com/videos.
The Bears have now earned the opportunity to play BYU in the final for the seventh time in the past eight years. Cal has won five of those six previous meetings. This year, the final takes place at South Field on the BYU campus, where the Cougars have never lost a match.
Coach Flanagan added that the Varsity Cup National Championships has proved to be the premier showcase for collegiate rugby. "We want to grow the game," Flanagan said. "This is the competition and these are the young men who are going to do it."