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Cal exploded in the second half to beat Indiana 29-14 in the first of two semifinals at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship Sunday in suburban Philadelphia. The Bears and Hoosiers were separated by just a score at halftime, but the Bears scored three in a row to open the second half and take the win.
Indiana got its hands on the initial kickoff, but tapped it out of bounds, giving Cal the first possession. Then the Hoosiers were pinged for a high tackle, and Cal’s Drew Gaffney ran in under the sticks shortly thereafter. Russell Webb stroked over the extra two points.
Indiana did what it’s done all tournament to draw level – string together numerous offloads to create a well-worked try. This time it was Alex Dorrier catching the final pass and crossing the line. He also converted, tying the game at 7-7.
Then Cal did what its’ very good at – beef up in the tackle area and counter ruck when it’s on. The Bears turned the Hoosiers over near midfield, and Russell Webb stepped half of Indiana’s team to set up a score right on halftime. The kick was unsuccessful, and Cal took a 12-7 lead into intermission.
Cal struck first at the onset of the second half when Webb scored shortly after the kickoff. The try stretched the lead to 17-7. The Bears won the ensuing restart, and Sam Cusano dotted down on this occasion, putting the game out of reach at 24-7 with three minutes to play. Will Fuller added another for the Bears near the death, and Sousley scored in extra time to close the books.
In the second semifinal, Life beat Lindenwood 24-14 to advance to the program’s second-ever CRC final. The Running Eagles’ first was in 2013, when they fell to Cal.
Lindenwood caught a massive break at the onset when Life’s Duncan van Schalkwyk was sent off with a yellow card for backchat in the opening minutes. Subsequently, Lindenwood scored the first try immediately, with Lorenzo Thomas dotting down.
Life, still shorfthanded from the penalty, leveled the table when Cody Melphy fly hacked a loose ball, scooped it up and scored. Both tries were converted, tying the game at 7-7.
Thomas made it a double immediately after the kickoff, which didn’t go 10, resulting in a free kick. Thomas just proved too big and fast for Life to bring down initially or chase down in the long run. The conversion was good again, putting the Lions up 14-7.
Life went on the offensive in the last possession of the half. Donovan Norphlet made the break to set it off, his shoe came off in the play and a Lindenwood player chucked it into the stands. A scrum was awarded to Life, and van Schalklwyk picked up the ball from the set piece and darted up the sideline for the try. The conversion was missed, leaving the Running Eagles down 14-12 going into the intermission.
Cody Melphy put them on top at the onset of the second half, throwing a very hard dummy, which Lindenwood’s Mickey Bateman bit on, and running into the try zone. The conversion was missed, leaving Life up 19-14 with about five minutes to play.
Life’s suspect yellow card in the first half was reversed with three minutes left on the clock when Lindenwood’s Michael Baska was pinged for an iffy intentional knock-on while engaged in a tackle, resulting in a sin bin and penalty deep in the Lions’ end. Life converted the opportunity when Zander van Schalkwyk slid in right off the penalty play. The score put Life up 24-14 with two minutes to go.
Lindenwood’s Sam Chapman made a long break with just over a minute left, and if he’d scored it would have pulled the Lions back within reach, but he was run down five meters from pay dirt and he knocked on, giving the ball back to Life and milking valuable time off the clock. A desperate chip ahead from Nick Feakes for Cristian Rodriguez went unrewarded, and Life held on for the win.