The California Maritime Academy won the California Cup by beating the visiting California Lutheran University Knights 23 to 7. The inaugural California Cup pitted NorCal’s NSCRO representative Cal Maritime against Cal Lutheran, Southern California’s undefeated D3 champion, for the right to head onto NSCRO’s national championships of the top 16 teams in the nation. The National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) will hold its PacWest Regional on April 14-15 in Wayne, Nebraska. The four participants in this regional will include Wayne State (the host college and Great Plains RFU Champ), Texas-Dallas (the Texas RFU Champ), the University of Puget Sound (the Pacific Northwest RFU Champ), and CMA (the California Cup Champ). Wayne State will face Texas-Dallas while Cal Maritime will square off against Puget Sound with the winners playing for the right to go to the Final Four. The National Championship will be held on April 28-29 and be played for the first time at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado, Rugbytown USA.
The Cal Maritime-Cal Lutheran game was a hard fought match from the opening kick-off to the final whistle. After 20 scoreless minutes with both sides threatening the other numerous times, Cal Lutheran scored under the posts on a series of quick moves that caught the Keelhaulers off guard. An easy conversion made the score 7-0. CMA’s Will Fitzpatrick made up for an earlier miss and made a 25 yard penalty kick to close the deficit and bring the halftime score to 7-3. The Keelhaulers applied pressure early in the second half and were rewarded when scrumhalf Jason Herring dashed over for CMA’s first try of the match. Fitzpatrick made the tough conversion and the Keelhaulers had a lead that they would never relinquish. Strong running by Forward Lonnie Shankling resulted in another try and a 15-7 lead. Savvy heads up play by Herring, Larez Pinder, and Nate Alexander sprung wing Kevin Hawke towards the goal line where he fought through 3 defenders to reach over for another Keelhauler try. Fitzgerald added a needed penalty goal with 15 minutes to go by making a 30 yard kick to push CMA’s lead to 23-7, requiring the visiting Knights to score 3 times if they wanted to go back in front. On this day, however, CMA’s defense was too tough and the Keelhaulers kept throwing their opponents rushes back time after time. Center Wyatt Matthews sealed the win with a fantastic tackle and steal as Cal Lutheran was making a desperate push towards the goal line in the dying minutes of the game.
Coach Steve Hiatt said “Although there were mistakes made that we will have to address if we want to succeed at Nationals, we played our best game in 2012 against a very tough, relentless opponent. Cal Lutheran refused to quit and I’m proud of my team’s tenacious defense in the face of the Knights’ continuous pounding. We have made great strides in building a better team much different than the one that suffered embarrassing losses in February and early March. Adding to our satisfaction was winning in front of great home crowd on our newly renovated field. A lot of credit goes towards Marv Christopher, CMA’s Athletic Director, for working tirelessly to get this field ready for the NSCRO Cal Cup. It is a pleasure to work with so dedicated a professional.”
The win brings CMA’s overall record to 8-4. A paid attendance of 200 came out to watch the Keelhaulers’ win on their new all-weather, rugby-lined field. Although finishing touches still need to be completed, the renovated Bodnar Field at the Cal Maritime Academy is sure to become a favorite Northern California rugby venue.
NSCRO Representative Steve Wren reported that both teams showed excellent sportsmanship during the match. Even though there were several penalties on both sides, play was crisp and determined throughout. The Cal Lutheran supporters were very vocal in cheering for their team.
In the preliminary match to the California Cup, Willamette University from Portland, Oregon met the St. Mary’s College C side from Moraga, California. Willamette was touring in Northern California during their spring break. The final score in that match was St. Mary’s 29 to Willamette’s 17. Again both teams showed great determination and effort during the match. The game was hard hitting and played with gusto throughout.