The Golden Bears played a fast and disciplined final to win the PAC Sevens Rugby Tournament on Sunday, beating Utah, 21-12, the North Athletic Field at UCLA. California beat the Bruins in the semifinal earlier in the day on its way to the tourney title.
The Bears exited the weekend with the best points differential (+124), most total points (167), most tries (27) and fewest points allowed (43) among the 12-team field. Cal has now won three of the four tournaments it has entered this fall, and was a semifinalist in the fourth.
"UCLA really did a fine job hosting this tournament," said head coach Jack Clark. "All the teams are really appreciative of their efforts and execution."
In their first meeting in 7s since the quarterfinals of the 2011 Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s, Cal relied on a balance of senior leadership and youthful poise to beat a Utah team that itself offered an intriguing combination of size and speed.
"We knew that they have some steppers and we wanted to stick our game plan and the pattern we know, hang on to the ball and recycle it," said freshman Russell Webb, who made all three of Cal's conversion attempts in the final. "We got tired too but we're happy that once we took a lead, we could hold them with our defense."
Captain Seamus Kelly got Cal going with his third-minute try to finish a phase through the hands going from right to left. Senior Anthony Lombardo ended the Bears' next scoring sequence going from left to right and Webb's conversions made it 14-0 at intermission.
Utah still had hopes of drawing the Bears into a more chaotic style in the second frame but Cal did not take the bait. Sophomore Nicklas Boyer kept it going for Cal with his try two minutes into the second half and although the Utes were making their mark with tough tackles by players like gridiron crossover John Cullen, the clock kept ticking on Utah's chance to mount a comeback.
"I'll take the hit if it draws a man and puts him through," said Kelly of Utah's physicality. "I'm definitely on empty but we shouldn't be any other way after a long tournament."
Nata Lauti put Utah on the board with his try and conversion and the Utes' Drake Meyers ran in a second try soon after, but Meyers' quickly-taken conversion went wide left to leave a nine-point cushion that proved to be the final difference.
"It was a team effort, all of us diving on loose balls and putting our heart into it," said Boyer. "I did not expect to be playing in the final but things happen and you've always got to be ready."
"Cal played well enough to win and we didn't, that's what it comes down to," said Utah head coach Blake Burdette. "They were the better team today and it was a great tournament."
The Bears had to make do on Sunday without junior Paul Bosco, who got dinged up on day one of the tournament, and that opened the door for Boyer, who handled halfback responsibilities in the semi and final.
In the preceding semifinals, UCLA's Race Noeldner got his team out to a 5-0 lead in the second minute before Cal's Andre Coquillard and Andrew Battaglia scored tries, the latter converted by Russell Webb, to give the Bears a 12-5 halftime lead.
The Bruins refused to go quietly, holding up Coquillard in goal to prevent another try, but Cal's patient response to UCLA miscues with well-executed lineouts allowed he clock to run down and an unconverted try by Jake Anderson ended the match with a 17-5 victory.
"It's good for the program to win this tournament", said Lombardo. "The PAC plays a high standard of rugby and it took all of as players and all our supporters to earn this one."
Coach Clark said he was "proud of our PAC rugby teams, who all put their best foot forward this weekend with 100 percent participation. The teams looked good and played well. The final eight were all good, with not much in it between any of us. Some of the knockout-round teams, like Oregon, were a revelation, very impressive in their form."
Clark added: "Even some of the consolation teams look very promising. Washington and Stanford both had passages of very good rugby and with coach likes Brian Schoener, Kevin Swiryn and Matt Sherman showing them the way forward, these teams will undoubtedly become increasingly competitive."
PAC Sevens Rugby Tournament
Stanford 21, USC 19
Washington 26, Washington State 0
Oregon State 21, Arizona 12
Colorado 33 , Oregon 12
California 17, UCLA 5 (semifinal)
Utah 26 , Arizona State 12 (semifinal)
USC 19, Washington State 7 (11th/12th playoff) Washington 17, Stanford 7 (9th/10th playoff) Arizona 26, Oregon 15 (7th/8th playoff) Colorado 21, Oregon State 17 (5th/6th playoff) UCLA 28, Arizona State 20 (3rd/4th playoff) California 21, Utah 12 (Final)
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