BYU rugby: Jonny Linehan's kick with no time left gives Cougars third national title in five years

Published: Saturday, May 4 2013 2:40 p.m. MDT

Game MVP Jonny Linehan is surrounded by teammates as they celebrate as BYU defeats Cal 27-24 in rugby on a drop as time expires to win the Varsity Cup national championship Saturday, May 4, 2013, in Provo.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

PROVO — Being a freshman, BYU's Jonny Linehan hadn't been around for past colossal rubgy matches against archrival Cal. He had never played for a Varsity Cup national championship.

But the young halfback from Auckland, New Zealand, who has been playing rugby since he could walk, was unfazed Saturday afternoon at South Field. He performed like a seasoned veteran in helping lead the Cougars to a dramatic 27-24 victory in the national championship match over the previously unbeaten Bears.

It marked BYU's second-consecutive national title and its third since 2009.

Linehan, who earned MVP honors, scored 22 of BYU's 27 points — including an improvisational, game-winning drop kick as time expired to break a 24-24 tie and furnish a classic finish.

The Cougars advanced the ball deep into Cal territory in the final minute, looking to end the deadlock and the match. While the game clock ran out, Linehan knew there was still a handful of seconds left in stoppage time for some magic.

"I asked the ref with about 10 minutes to go, 'Is the game clock spot on?'," said Linehan, who enrolled at BYU in January. "He said it was about one minute off. So I knew we had a bit of time after it expired."

BYU senior captain Ryan Roundy came close to scoring a try in the frenetic final moments, but was unable to cross the goal line.

"I really wanted Roundy to push it over for that try," Linehan said. "He almost got it there. But he set us up perfect. I thought that time must be close to being up. And if it's not, this is the time to strike."

After a scrum, Linehan found himself alone with the ball, and he caught the Bears by surprise — booting a three-point drop kick that sailed through the uprights.

"It was a bit of improvising. We were in front of the post," said Linehan. "I thought, '100 percent of the time in practice I put this through. But maybe when it comes down to the big moment, I'll shank it.' But I was fortunate enough to put it through the post. I wouldn't like to do it again."

"Jonny's kicking was on today," said BYU flanker Kyle Sumsion. "I don't think anybody expected him to drop kick. (Cal) was back 10 yards when he kicked that through. He's an awesome player and we're glad to have him this year."

Cal never saw Linehan's kick coming.

"There's not much you can do about it," Bears coach Jack Clark said of Linehan's game-winner. "He's sitting back in the pocket and he was a long way away from anyone being able to challenge that. ... It was a very precarious situation there. … Had he missed the drop goal, maybe we had an overtime in us. But he's a good kicker."

With the win, BYU avenged a setback to Cal in the 2011 national championship match. The two teams are the powerhouses of collegiate rugby, and have built up quite a rivalry over the years.

Going into the match, Cougar coach David Smyth knew this contest was going to be a hard-fought battle.

"I woke up this morning at 3 o'clock. I had a feeling then that it was going to turn out like this," he said. "I knew whoever won, it would be by the slimmest of margins. I'm obviously very happy it was us."

Following Linehan's heroics, the freshman was mobbed on the field by his teammates, and then the fans joined in the celebration.

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