BERKELEY - In its first Homecoming on Witter Rugby Field since 2010, top-ranked California put in a controlled performance and scored seven tries to defeat Utah, 51-29, Saturday afternoon in front of a large crowd despite Spring Break for Cal students, clinching the inaugural PAC Rugby Conference title.
For the second straight week, the Bears combined a tenacious 80-minute defensive performance with a 29-point second half to help seal the deal.
Cal's tries were scored by seven different Golden Bears, including fullback Jake Anderson, who added five conversions (5-for-7) and two penalties (2-for-2) for 21 points scored.
Utah No. 8 John Cullen was the Utes' high-scorer with 10 points on two tries, but by the time he scored his second, the clock showed zeroes and the match was well out of reach.
"Our game plan was to retain possession but Cal takes advantage of every mistake," said the Utes' Assistant Coach for Attack, Jon Law. "They really started tackling us behind the gainline and it was that first five minutes after halftime that seemed to dictate the rest of the game."
Anderson opened the scoring with a 20-meter penalty in the fourth minute, then converted Cal's first try from Seamus Kelly, who found a channel through the Utah defense three minutes later.
Sophomore scrumhalf Nicklas Boyer held his own with the opposite No. 9, the dangerous Don Pati, working the ball out to the backline and back inside to his forwards, and keeping it when the occasion called, including a try for his efforts in the 67th minute. Fellow sophomores Michael Bush and Lucas Dunne received rare starts, with Bush scoring a try with his 35-meter sprint after poaching the ball behind a Utah scrum in the first half.
"Playing against Pati was pretty big for me," said Boyer. "Winning the first PAC Rugby championship is a big honor for this team."
Utah was able to close the deficit to 22-17 at the break following Curtis Shon's try, but Anderson slotted his second penalty just two minutes after play resumed, followed by sophomore Andrew Battaglia's try two minutes after that. Danny Barrett, who was held out until the second half as a replacement, added a try as the Bears shut down the Utes offense for most of the second half.
The Bears' final try was scored by freshman flyhalf Russell Webb, who took a pass from Dunne after his burst downfield and grubbered the ball into in-goal, where he touched it down.
Saturday was also a high-school reunion for both captains, Cal outside center Seamus Kelly and Utah flanker Mike Juszczak, teammates at Xavier High School in New York City whose former team also enjoyed the contest from the bleachers during their spring tour of Northern California.
"It's something special to play in front of this crowd with my high school here today," said Kelly. "Utah has a talented group and I'm happy we could get this win in front of our fans."
Cal improves to 18-0 overall and finishes 5-0 in the PAC Rugby Conference, while Utah falls to 7-4 overall and 2-2 in the PAC.
"We wish Utah the best going forward and we're pleased to win the conference championship for our University," said Bears head coach Jack Clark. "We look forward to the bye week to get prepared for the Gaels."
Homecoming marked one of the last opportunities for fans to enjoy a home match in Strawberry Canyon during the spring 2013 season. The Bears will host Saint Mary's in the resumption of that local rivalry to end the regular season on Saturday, April 13, at 1 p.m.
Cal's will compete in the postseason at the Varsity Cup, in which the Bears face Notre Dame in an April 20 super-regional showdown at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The higher-seeded winner between that outcome and that of the Navy-Dartmouth super-regional will host a semifinal April 27, giving Cal and its fans one more possible home game in the postseason followed by the championship on May 4 in Provo, Utah.
After the Varsity Cup, Cal will travel to the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s June 1-2 in Philadelphia.
Tries: Kelly, Bush, Anderson, Battaglia, Barrett, Boyer, Webb
Convs: Anderson 5
Pens: Anderson 2
Tries: Cullen 2, Juszczak, Shon
Convs: Meyers, Lauti