An even battled ensued, but Chico State (red) scored two converted tries to Colorado State's three penalties. (Ian Muir photo)
Chico State has secured the sixth and final Pacific Mountain Conference seed to nationals. After a 36-19 semifinal win over UC Santa Barbara yesterday, Chico lined up against Colorado State today in the play-in final (CSU defeated UC Davis 27-12 in their semifinal). A very evenly matched ensued, but Chico was able to find a little more success converting linebreaks into points and won 14-9.
The weekend was a poignant one for two opposing reasons. On the one hand, Chico’s two games saw a previously inconsistent team find its step; on the other hand, the team received a bevy of yellow cards.
“Over the last two days, we were sinbinned five times for high tackles,” Chico coach Alex Triantafyllou said. “It was a lack of discipline on our part. I don’t know if the refs were stricter this weekend or what, but once he gave out the first yellow card, everyone after that went straight to the bin. Maybe one yellow card was warranted today, but not the other two. But it’s fair to say that we can always work on getting our tackles lower.”
Chico State played down a player for 30 minutes of the game but maintained composure – so much so, that the team scored with only 14 players on the field. Flyhalf Joelle Cabasa essentially scored an individual try, charging 40 meters, getting tackled, releasing and then getting back up again.
“She’s not a very structured player,” Triantafyllou said of the standout. “She reads what’s in front of her, and is really good at finding and putting people into space. Earlier in the season, we had trouble breaking players' reliance on set plays, and they struggled to run off of Cabasa and be creative. But the players are learning now.”
After the converted try, Colorado State answered with three consecutive penalties to take a 9-7 lead in the second half. CSU took advantage of Chico’s errors, but couldn’t convert the man-advantages into tries.
“Colorado State is a very good team, with big, strong runners who didn’t go down easily,” Triantafyllou said. “Our defense was pretty solid. We started to lose a little composure in the last 10 minutes, trying to close out the game and getting a little frantic. But we scrambled well; we bent but didn’t break.
“Also, Colorado State’s outside center tended to rush up and attempt the intercept,” Triantafyllou added. “Once we keyed in on that, we attacked the hole she opened up and were able to get through.”
Fullback Megan Foster was key to mollifying CSU’s kick-and-chase game. She fielded every clearing kick cleanly and also handled both conversions. Triantafyllou acknowledged No. 8 Mackenzie McManus and Bryttany Felder-Brown for their solid performances. They were tough in the breakdowns, both in securing the ball and tackling off the base.
With about 15 minutes to go, Cabasa noticed the overload in the backline, and wing Suzanne Perrin took the final pass 15 meters for the try. The game was by no means over at the final lead change, and it wasn’t until there was two minutes left in the game that the outcome was more certain.
“Yesterday was the first time that we played well all season,” Triantafyllou said. “We had eight rookies on the pitch today; this year has been spent getting everyone to understand the pattern and nail down individual skills. It’s been a scattered season, and we haven’t been able to put anything together until yesterday. We were firing on all cyclinders – the forwards were doing what they needed to do, and the backs were moving the ball well, attacking different points in the backline. We’re peaking; we’re where we need to be. And the confidence the team gleaned from yesterday’s win definitely carried through today.”
This weekend has been a huge accomplishment for Chico State, especially considering that their league season was marked by flashes of brilliance, followed by lapses in judgment.
“We all knew we had the potential and ability, but hadn’t shown it all season,” Triantafyllou said. “We just needed to string it all together for 80 minutes, and if we could do that, we were confident that we could take the weekend.”
With the dual wins, Chico State will head to Palo Alta, Calif., for the first round of DI Nationals. Chico will face Stanford, at Stanford, in the round of 16. Although Chico is a different team today than it was a month ago, the two teams’ last meeting ended in a 57-22 decision to Stanford.
But for now, Chico can relish in the fact that it beat two very strong DI teams and will be returning to the big show once again.