Provo, Utah — The BYU Cougars advanced to their eighth straight national championship game Saturday by beating the Central Washington Wildcats, 53-20, on South Field in the semifinals of the Varsity Cup.
BYU had to overcome an early deficit after falling behind by eight points, 15-7, in the 22nd minute of the first half.
But 46 unanswered points over the next 50 minutes of the game gave the Cougars the victory.
BYU started the scoring first with junior fullback Will Taylor dotting down in the sixth minute following a junior center Seki Kofe's midfield linebreak. Freshman flyhalf Jonny Linehan converted, and the Cougars led 7-0.
CWU responded in kind with a driving maul from five meters out that led to lock Sean Wanigasekera's opening Wildcat try in the 11th minute.
Another series of possession exchanges and a BYU penalty led to CWU fullback Alex Reher's penalty kick 15th minute and a CWU lead of 8-7.
Some errors by both sides followed until CWU flyhalf Max Nawerski split the BYU defense in the midfield that eventually led to Wildcat wing Josh Bower scoring from long distance in the 22nd minute.
A wide angle conversion by CWU's Reher pushed the Wildcats' lead to 15-7 giving the CWU sideline plenty to cheer about.
The Cougars weren't deterred however by CWU's early lead.
"They're [CWU] a good team," BYU captain Ryan Roundy said. "We knew they were going to come at us hard and in all credit to them they really had us on the ropes there. But I knew our guys had it in them and it was just about getting back to the basics and playing our game."
The Cougars did just that and used their game to get back into the game with tries from junior winger Chris Wernli and junior hooker Ishmael Tilialo in the 30th and 37th minutes, respectively.
At the break, the Cougars edged back into the lead 19-15 — a lead which BYU wouldn't relinquish.
“BYU is a quality program and we knew that coming into this match," CWU head coach Tony Pacheco said."We knew we needed to play without mental mistakes and we did that for 40 minutes. We played the first half extremely well at a level where we needed to be. In the second half, we had some momentum opportunities but we didn’t quite seize them. Hats off to BYU for putting it together and coming through some adversity in the first half.”
The second half started with CWU pressuring close to the BYU goal line, when senior prop Ray Forrester poached the Wildcats' ball in the 43rd minute.
The ball was passed wide through the BYU backline to Wernli who raced past the CWU defense 50 meters to finish the 90 meter-plus long try.
"That was a big play," BYU assistant coach Justen Nadauld said. "That could have dramatically changed how the course of the second half went had they been able to score. It really put the momentum in our direction and we were able to build on it."
BYU freshman scrum half Luke Mocke was next to score for the Cougars in the 51st minute after a deft chip and chase close to the sideline gave the young halfback his first try of the game.
Another try for the Cougars from Kofe in the 53rd minute was followed by a Linehan penalty that pushed the BYU lead out to 41-15.
Mocke squirmed his way for another short-range try in the 65th minute, which was followed by a final BYU try from Roundy in the 75th minute.
A late try from CWU in the 78th minute by replacement wing Shelby Williams rounded out the final score in favor of the Cougars, 53-20.
"I thought CWU played very well in the first half," BYU head coach David Smyth said. "They really had us on the back foot for long periods of time. They were able to disrupt our set pieces as well. But when we were able to maintain possession and set a better platform from which to release our backs, I thought we were pretty dangerous and did some nice things."
The Cougars now move on to the Varsity Cup National Championship game next Saturday, May 4 at 1 p.m., which is set to be hosted at BYU South Field Stadium.
BYU will face a familiar foe in the title match as perennial champion California beat the Navy Midshipmen on Saturday in Berkeley, 74-6.
Of the eight straight championship bouts the Cougars have played in, seven of them have come against the Golden Bears from Cal.
BYU and Cal last met in 2011 in the national championship at Rio Tinto Stadium with the Bears coming up victors 21-14 in a hotly contested affair.
Saturday's title tilt between the Bears and the Cougars will be a series of firsts with BYU hosting the national championship for the first time in the history of the program, while also being the first time the Bears have traveled to Provo in postseason play.
Tickets for Saturday's championship clash are available for advance purchase at BYUTickets.com.
BYU 1st XV
David Collins (David Williams 48′)
Ishmael Tilialo (Scott Gowdy 45')
Dan Hubert (Braden Bair 56')
Kody Thompson (Jeff Ott 73')
Ryan Roundy (c)
Luke Mocke (Inoke Funaki 75′)
Jonny Linehan (Lelann Latu 70')
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Seki Kofe (Andrew Carver 70′)
CWU 1st XV
BYU: 53 TRIES: Taylor 6'; Wernli 30', 44'; Tilialo 37'; Mocke 51', 65'; Kofe 53'; Roundy 75'; CONVERSIONS: Linehan 5/7; Lasike 0/1; PENALTIES: Linehan 1/2 (56')
CWU: 8 TRIES: Wanigasekera 11'; Bower 22'; CONVERSIONS: Reher 1/2; PENALTIES: Reher 1/1 (15')
The BYU Rugby program is one of the school's most winning sports teams with just 19 losses in more than 20 years. BYU Rugby won the 2009 and 2012 Collegiate National Championship & has promoted 40 All-Americans. For more go to byurugby.com.