Bears beat BYU for 23rd national title
In the greatest recurring theme in recent Bay Area sports history, the California Golden Bears won another national championship in rugby Saturday with a masterful dissection of a rugged and capable BYU side. Cal steadily and efficiently built up its lead at Steuber Rugby Stadium on the Stanford campus until the score reached 32-0 with a minute to play. Brigham Young finally broke across the goal line for a try with a minute left and Cal responded with a quick try as time expired on a 37-7 victory for the Bears.
For Cal, it was its fourth straight national championship, 16th in the last 17 years and 23rd overall since 1980. The Bears finished the season 25-1, with their only loss coming to Rugby Super League champion Old Mission Beach Athletic Club by six points. "They had a pretty good run, didn't they?'' Cal coach Jack Clark said of his players. "This was a team that could have gone through undefeated. I'm really proud of them. I'm so pleased that when they put their guts into it, it worked out. Nobody knows how hard they work.'' Sophomore center Colin Hawley was named most valuable player of the tournament for his work against Navy in the semifinals and BYU in the final. He scored a try against the Cougars on a dash of about 30 meters and was resolute in his play on the front line. "We could have played a lot better,'' Hawley said. "We missed a lot of opportunities, our kicking wasn't too good, but we hung on. I don't believe it was our best rugby. We just gritted it down.'' To the lay observer, however, it appeared that the Bears took advantage of the chances they had while at the same time making sure BYU's most dangerous players did not cause them harm. In particular, lightning-quick wing Vito QaQa scarcely had the ball in his hands throughout the 80-minute contest played out on a blissful afternoon before 4,417 fans.
"It's hard,'' said an exhausted Louis Stanfill, Cal's stalwart No. 8 position. "I have played on the international level and semi-pro here and with these guys. They play a high-tempo style and they hit hard. They play the way men should play. It was very satisfying.'' BYU gave up very little to the Bears in the first half and the Cougars still trailed 13-0 after the first 40 minutes. Hooker Chris Biller scored Cal's first try in the opening minutes of the game and Chris Gurecki booted through a penalty kick later for an 8-0 advantage. Cal captain Chase Brogan came up with the game's niftiest moment when he and a BYU player were both racing for a punted ball bouncing toward the Cougars' goal line. Brogan got his hands on the ball just short of the line and touched it down for a 13-0 lead and more than a little momentum for his team. "Just got a lucky bounce,'' he said. "Coach Clark always says to the hustler goes the reward. That really helped us and gave us a confidence boost.'' Cal got second-half tries from Kevin Kroll, Hawley and Brendan Wright and led 32-0 before BYU scored. "This Cal team was better than the Cal team we played last year,'' BYU coach Dave Smyth said. "They're a more complete team. They were a little more creative. That's a bad thing for us.'' In losing to Cal for a second straight year in the title game, Smyth said, "I can tell you sincerely we're not going anywhere. We plan on being back here next year.''