SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Cal Poly Mustangs have been crowned the first ever CSU 7s champions as they won the inaugural 2013 California State 7s Championship with a 19-10 win over the Sacramento States Hornets in the Cup Final on Saturday afternoon at Danny Nunn Park in Sacramento, Calif.
With the Cal State 7s Championship being a qualifying tournament for the 2013 USA Rugby College 7s Championship, champions Cal Poly have stamped their ticket to battle for a national championship in Greensboro, NC on November 23-24.
“We are very thrilled to have won that match and to now have the chance to travel to North Carolina,” stated Cal Poly Head Coach David Burnett. “We knew coming into the match that Sac State had some tremendous athletes and if we gave them enough room then they would cause trouble. But the boys adapted well in the second half and put a bit more pressure on Sacramento. We tried to hold them in which I think we did well, and we were able to capitalize with a couple of tries of our own.”
While Cal Poly was indeed able to score some tries, it was their defensive effort that proved to be a key factor as the Mustangs worked hard to contain an athletic Sacramento offense. Cal Poly’s defense repeatedly attacked the Hornets in a flat line, coming up fast and strong, which prevented Sacramento from swinging the ball wide and utilizing their speedy wings.
Both Sacramento State and Cal Poly went undefeated in their route to the Cup Final. Sacramento defeated Fresno State 28-5, and Cal State Northridge 28-10 in pool play. Meanwhile, Cal Poly ousted Sacramento B 41-15 (Sacramento fielded a second side when Humboldt State cancelled at the last minute), and dispatched Sonoma State 26-5 in their pool.
The semi-finals saw Sacramento State overcome a rough Chico State Wildcats team, 24-10. And Cal Poly shut out Long Beach State, 24-0, in the other semifinal.
The Cup Final between the Hornets and the Mustangs was hotly contested. On paper Sacramento may have been the underdogs, but the Hornets had been playing tough throughout the day and carried some momentum into the final as the tournament hosts with plenty of fans on watch. Cal Poly, which has a long tradition as one of the top teams in California, came in determined and organized, and proved that they were ready for a challenge.
The Championship match opened up with some hard runs stymied by harder defense. Sac State maintained some possession in the beginning, but they were met by a hard-nosed Cal Poly defense. Sac State used their forwards to suck in the Cal Poly defenders, and sent the ball wide to winger Chris Bempong who sprinted 40 meters into space and outpaced his defender to score the first try of the match. The kick was unconverted and Sacramento took an early 5-0 lead.
Cal Poly regrouped and gained possession through a stellar re-start kick that put pressure on the Hornets. Cal Poly patiently spun the ball wide from sideline to sideline, when sophomore Mark Grzanich stiff-armed his way through a Hornet defender and accelerated half the distance of the field to dot down between the posts. The conversion kick was good and Cal Poly took the lead 7-5.
The Hornets continued to fight offensively and created more than a few opportunities, but many of the Hornets’ offensive drives were ended with a penalty like holding on, or a careless knock-on. The mental mistakes seemed to pile up as the Hornets became frustrated, and received a warning from the referee that any further infractions could result in a yellow card.
While Sacramento struggled to regain their composure, Cal Poly remained organized and calm. The Mustangs continued a systematic offense letting the ball do the work with unselfish passing, and freshman Matt Long eventually side-stepped his way through the Sacramento defense to end the first half with a try. Cal Poly went into the halftime break leading the Hornets 12-5.
The Hornets refused to go down without a fight. They came into the second half with a head of steam. The Hornets ran hard and tried to wear down the Mustang defenders. The Mustangs continued to hold firm, and while Sacramento was running hard lines, their focus on going into contact resulted in lost chances. On more than one occasion, the Hornets would remain insistent on going into contact instead of making that last pass and overlap opportunities were missed. Sacramento winger Chris Bempong made another big run sprinted 60 meters toward the corner of the try zone. The Cal Poly defender did very well shutting down the angle, however, and just when it looked like Bempong had his man beat, the Mustang defender made an incredible try-saving tackle to pull Bempong into touch just a few feet short of the try zone.
The Hornets did capitalize well on a great opportunity when a Cal Poly line-out within their own 22 meter line wasn’t thrown straight, which provided Sacramento with a scrum close to the try line. Hornet scrum-half Colin Scott exploited the weak side and picked the ball from the scrum and sprinted between two defenders as he dove into the try zone for Sacramento’s second try of the game. The conversion kick was close, and this was apparent by the reaction of the fans and the Sacramento sideline when the referee deemed it was no good. Much to the dismay of the fans, Sacramento still trailed Cal Poly 12-10 with time winding down.
The Hornets continued to throw everything they could at the Mustangs, but the Cal Poly defense manned up and refused to give. They continued to overwhelm the Hornets and created problems for Sacramento at the breakdown. Cal Poly would have the final word when Mark Grzanich received a nice off-load pass from his teammate who drew in multiple defenders, and Grzanich sprinted 40 meters to solidify the win for Cal Poly. The conversion kick was good and Cal Poly increased their lead, 19-10.
Sacramento had one more chance to score try even though it wouldn’t have won the game, but once again the Hornet offense missed an overlap opportunity and insisted on going into contact that ended up resulting in a holding on penalty. Cal Poly booted the ball into touch and became the first ever California State University 7s Champions while also earning a spot to compete for a national 7s title in November.
“Hats off to Cal Poly, they are a talented team it showed that they definitely earned their spot at Nationals today,” stated Sacramento State Head Coach Adam Macrae. “I am still proud of the way we played throughout the day and I don’t want the guys to hang their heads. We had some great moments, but in the championship match there we some mental mistakes and we weren’t able to regain our composure.”
“When you play a good team like Cal Poly, you need to be able adjust quickly and not let those mistakes take over,” Macrae added. “When things weren’t going our way, the guys tried to overcompensate and we forgot the basics. But it doesn’t mean these things aren’t fixable. I was really impressed with the work rate the boys showed today, and we will continue to work hard on the areas that need improvement and prepare for the next challenge. These guys have the ability to play some really good rugby. If the guys make a commitment that they want to do what is necessary to be one of the top teams, I know we can achieve that.”
The Hornets will re-group and look for success at the Battle of the Bay 7s Tournament hosted by St. Mary’s College next weekend. Should the Hornets continue to impress, they could still earn a spot at 7s Nationals either by winning the Battle of the Bay or by petitioning for an at-large bid. To do either, the Hornets will have to win games.
Meanwhile, Cal Poly will look to get all the practice and game experience they can in preparation for the 2013 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship that will be held at the Bryan Park Soccer Complex in Greensboro, North Carolina on November 23-24.
“We are thrilled with the way the tournament went and we couldn’t be more excited to go to North Carolina,” added Cal Poly Head Coach David Burnett.
When asked what Cal Poly will need to do to be successful at nationals, Burnett replied, “I certainly think that defensive pressure is required. All good teams have very good defensive systems and its built around defensive lines being able to put pressure on. UCLA did that last week putting on good defensive pressure [when UCLA defeated Cal in the West Coast 7s Championship]. We adapted well today with good defensive pressure and I think when you are able to do that, you are certainly able to sort of squander those opportunities of those good athletes and faster guys to get around you.”
Cal Poly will undoubtedly meet some greater challenges at nationals, but if Burnett can continue to instill the mantra of defensive pressure into his team, the Mustangs showed today they are quite capable and possess the ability to stop athletic opponents from finding the try zone. Cal Poly will join Sacramento State at the Battle of the Bay 7s and will look to keep their momentum going into next weekend. For now, the Mustangs can celebrate being crowned the inaugural CSU 7s Championship as they return home to San Luis Obispo.
2013 California State 7s Championship Tournament
Cal State Northridge
Long Beach State
San Francisco State
San Jose State
Sacramento State B (in place of Humboldt State)
Sacramento State v. Fresno State 28-5
Long Beach v. SF State 29-0
San Jose v. Monterey Bay 27-0
Sonoma v. Sacramento State B 31-19
Sacramento State v. Northridge 28-10
Cal Poly v. Sacramento State B 41-15
Chico v. San Jose 26-12
Cal Poly v. Sonoma 26-5
Fresno v. Northridge 17-25
SF State v. Cal Maritime 17-24
Chico v. Monterey Bay 39-0
Long Beach v. Cal Maritime 36-10
Fresno State v. Monterey Bay 29-5
SF State v. Sac State B 5-27
Fresno State v. Sac State B 15-10
Northridge v. San Jose 10-12
Sonoma State v. Cal Maritime 19-10
San Jose v. Sonoma State 24-22
Sac State v. Chico State 24-10
Cal Poly v. Long Beach 24-0
Cal Poly v. Sacramento State 19-10