Monday, March 05, 2007

Daily Cal: Bears Can't Hold On to Early Lead, Drop First Match of Season

By Vincent Tannura

Berkeley, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- After scoring an injury-time try to bring his Cal rugby squad within reach of the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC) at 36-28, senior Rikus Pretorius walked over to the sideline to talk to assistant coach Tom Billups.  Billups informed him that the ensuing conversion kick would likely be the game's last play.  Pretorius gave a look of half-disgust, half-frustration, and when the whistle sounded seconds later, his look summed up the Bears' afternoon.  After a 78-12 win in its morning game against Sacramento State, Cal (17-1) squandered an 18-17 halftime lead in its latter game against OMBAC. The Rugby Super League Champions strung together three tries in a 13-minute span to take control late in the game and eventually win 36-30 at Witter Field on Saturday.  "We played a really hard game," Bears coach Jack Clark said. "That's a game we could have won with more accuracy in kicking. We gave up a couple soft tries."

Cal took an 18-17 lead on the last play of the first half, as senior Chris Gurecki knocked a penalty kick through for three points.  For the Bears, it was a good end to a tough half in which they struggled initially to adjust to OMBAC's speed.  "They're tough guys," said junior Jason Lee, who scored two acrobatic tries on the day. "They hit really hard, and they play so fast."  Despite the first-half success, the rest of the game only led to faster play and harder hits for OMBAC and frustration over missed opportunities for Cal.  In the opening minutes of the second half, the Bears pushed the pile across the try line for an apparent score, but the referee ruled that the ball had not been touched down, resulting in a five-yard scrum.  Two minutes later, on the same drive, Cal was called for offsides right at the edge of the try zone.

The Bears quickly stole the ball back, but Pretorius threw a forward pass right at the try line. Minutes later, Cal was once again held up after having pushed its way across the goal line.  The four consecutive missed chances cleared the way for an opportunistic OMBAC squad, which features 12 national team members, to take control.  Beginning at the 63 minute mark, OMBAC turned up the speed on the fatigued Bears unit, storming down the field three times to take a 36-23 lead.  "We're at the halfway point in our season, and I'd like to think that we'll have a lot more in us during the last 20 minutes of a game like that in a month from now," Clark said.  OMBAC took its advantage into extra time, and when Pretorius scored his try, the game's outcome had already been decided.  The general consensus was that the effort had been there, but that the Bears had been the victims of forced errors against a stronger, more experienced team.  "It was a challenge and I was really happy with everyone's effort," senior Chase Brogan said. "We showed a lot about ourselves and it will help us out down the road."

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