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For the second-consecutive year, Cal and Kutztown will meet in the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship title match. Defending champ Cal won its way back by beating Life, 33-5, and Kutztown dispatched of the Cinderella Arizona Wildcats, 19-14, to book its return trip. Cal beat Kutztown, 24-21, in last year's final.
Cal’s size overwhelmed Life’s speed in the first semifinal Sunday at PPL Park in suburban Philadelphia. The bigger Bears were menaces at the breakdown, eventually leading to some frustration and penalty issues for Life.
Cal’s opening kickoff didn’t go 10 meters, giving Life a free kick opportunity at midfield. The Running Eagles maintained possession throughout the first three minutes, but Cal's Anthony Salaber came up with the ball in a ruck, and Harry Adolphus was over the try line not long after. Jake Anderson’s conversion attempt was errant, and Cal led 5-0.
Alec Gletzer produced a turnover off the kickoff with a monster counter-ruck. Adolphus poked a kick through the Life defense for Andrew Battaglia to run onto. The wing couldn’t rein the ball in before it dribbled out of bounds deep in Life’s end, but the Running Eagles knocked on the lineout, and Anderson scored right after Cal won the ensuing scrum.
Life made a crucial mistake that led to a third try for Cal right on halftime. Blane McIlroy kicked the ball upfield under pressure, the Running Eagle chase wasn’t there, and Cal’s counter attack saw Nick Boyer cross over. The final two tries of the half were converted, and the Bears took a 19-0 lead into the break.
McIlroy’s uncharacteristically poor game continued in the second half when he was sent off with a yellow card early on. His frustration with the referee was obvious, and Anderson scored his second try on the ensuing penalty play.
Life’s indiscipline continued, and Cal kept reaping the benefit. After a flurry of penalties on the Running Eagles inside their own 22, Boyer punched over a score from short distance. McIlroy would add to his impressive tournament try tally at the death, but Cal advanced to a third-straight Cup Final.
Arizona started with possession in the second semifinal. Kyle Rogers got the crowd to its feet with a scintillating run, but he only just stepped into touch on his way past the KU defense. The Wildcats looked off to the races once more, but a forward pass pulled the ball back to a Kutztown scrum.
Kutztown would draw first blood, capitalizing on its first real opportunity. Niku Kruger sliced up the field, deferred to Alex Faison-Donahoe, who gave it back to Kruger. The scrumhalf slipped a backdoor offload out to Faison-Donahoe for the score. Kruger converted, and the Golden Bears were up 7-0.
Faison-Donahoe scored his second try at the end of an exhausting run of play to give Kutztown a 12-0 lead going into the half. Arizona captain Jack Arnold was being tended to by a trainer during the play, leaving the Wildcats down a man as Faison-Donahoe crossed over.
Arizona got on the board two-thirds through the half. Wildcat stepper Anthony Spencer juked through a stagnant Kutztown line and sped under the posts. Converted, the try pulled Arizona within a score at 12-7.
Impact reserves Isei Finau and Duke Makina subbed on and both carried the ball for Kutztown after the restart, helping spring Robert Stortz free for a try. Kruger converted, and there wasn’t enough time left on the clock for Arizona to mount a comeback. Rogers would tack on one more score, but it was inconsequential.
Both Cal and Kutztown lost significant pieces from last season – Seamus Kelly for Cal and Mike Lawrenson for KU. Both have played professionally since the last CRC, making the rematch all the more impressive.
The final will kickoff at 5:25 ET live on NBC.