BYU rugby: Cougars fall to Cal in hard-fought title tilt
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SANDY — BYU rugby coach David Smyth knows it's not fun being the bridesmaid.
For the fifth time in six seasons, the Cougars fell to Cal in the College Premier Division rugby national championship, 21-14, on Saturday night.
This time it happened at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"Just to get (to the championship game) is a good thing," Smyth said. "But I'm a little bit disappointed because I'm a little tired of getting here and not winning. We've got to figure out a way to fix that."
BYU knocked off Cal in 2009 in the title tilt, but the Bears have won the other five showdowns between the two powerhouse programs.
Cal (27-0) led 21-7 late in the second half, and staved off a BYU (15-1) rally to capture the national crown.
The Bears devised, and executed, a perfect game plan against the Cougars — which centered around keeping the ball away from BYU's speedy players.
"They starved us of the ball. We're usually a team that likes to get it and swing it and keep it open," Smyth said. "But they came in prepared not to let us do that. But it was great to be here. It was a great experience. The boys are a little down right now, but we'll spring back."
"I really do believe that if (BYU) would have had those lineout balls, it would have been a different story," said Cal coach Jack Clark.
BYU team captain Ryan Roundy said he and his teammates squandered too many opportunities.
"We knew coming in that if we made too many mistakes against this team, it was going to kill us. That's what happened," Roundy said. "We didn't execute a few plays and we lost a few balls and it ended up costing us the game.
"Cal was a better team on the day. Every time we started to get something going, we'd drop the ball or give it right back to them. We made it hard on ourselves."
The contest was scoreless until the 23rd minute of the first half, when Cal's Derek Asbun broke through with a try. The conversion, and a penalty kick, gave the Bears an early 10-0 advantage.
Apenisa Malani put BYU on the board in the 37th minute with a try. Cal answered on a penalty kick to make the score 13-7 at halftime.
The Bears extended their lead to 21-7 before the Cougars' Sosaia Leaaetoa scored a try to cut the deficit to 21-12. Shawn Davies' conversion made it 21-14 at the 68-minute mark.
The Cougars had their chances, but couldn't get any closer. In the end, BYU committed too many penalties and dropped too many balls.
"(Cal) played a smart game of rugby. They had a very definite game plan, and that was to starve us of the ball. They were very good at it and very patient. Their game plan won through tonight," Smyth said. "When you see so little of the ball, you get real anxious in there. Instead of being in a rhythm like we normally are, the boys got a little bit impatient and took their eye off the ball. You can't fault them for trying. They were giving it their all."
While the Bears won the championship, the real winner on Saturday may have been the sport of rugby in the state of Utah.
The Beehive State hosted the college rugby title game for the first time ever, which was preceded by the Under-19 national championship at Rio Tinto Stadium, which featured two teams from Utah — Highland and Utah United. Highland won that contest, 38-24.
"I'm really proud of the rugby community in Utah for coming out and supporting high school rugby before us and college rugby," Clark said. "It's a fantastic setting."
While Smyth is tired of finishing second, he appreciated Saturday's game for what it was.
"These guys spilled their guts on that field for 80 minutes. It was a physical war," he said. "I'm just so proud of our boys. I'm proud of the Cal boys, too. They were fantastic. We were fantastic. It was good for the sport of rugby."
"It was an awesome game. Even though we didn't come out on top, it was a fun game," Roundy said. "I always love playing Cal and playing in these close games. It was a great environment and a great showing by both teams. We appreciate all the BYU fans that came out here. You couldn't have asked for a better environment."
And chances are, BYU and Cal will meet again next year for the national championship. Maybe by then, Smyth will have figured out a way to dethrone the mighty Bears.
Highland wins U19 rugby championship
SANDY — In an all-Beehive State rugby showdown, Highland defeated Utah United Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium, 38-24, to claim the Boys Under-19 national championship.
It was an especially sweet victory for legendary Highland coach Larry Gelwix, whose team won its 20th national title in his final season as coach.
Gelwix has been called to serve as the mission president of the LDS Church's California Fresno Mission, a position he will assume in July.
— Jeff Call
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