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In front of jammed packed crowds for homecoming in Berkeley, Calif., Cal and Army fought to a 50-41 Bears victory at the Cal Invitational. After the opening round that saw the Black Knights defeat Claremont Colleges, 44-10, and Cal beat UCLA, 58-3, the two top ten squads battled on Sunday. The tight back and forth affair culminated in a total of 15 tries between the two clubs.
“It was a tough match, physical and competitive,” Cal head coach Jack Clark said. “We did most components of the game reasonably well, but we weren't great at much.”
Army head coach agreed to say, “Both teams played fast, hard, and physical. Cal was just a little more precise a few more times... The flow of the game was pretty back and forth. Cal owned the scoreboard in the first part of the first half and we owned it in the second part. The flow felt back and forth and the whole second half was pretty competitive.”
Cal came out charging in the first 20 minutes racking up three tries by Aidan Flynn, Aisea Tongilava, and Damon Wiley to give the Bears the 17-0 lead. Army responded with a three-try surge as the forwards mauled two in and Jaron Jurosic scored another to reduce the deficit to two points at 17-15. Cal’s Keanu Andrade chipped in a try in the 35th minute to increase the advantage to nine points but a penalty try to Army at the horn cut the tally to 24-22 at the half.
With the momentum and two Cal players in the bin to begin the second half, the Black Knights scored first to take the lead following a Matthew Meehan tap and go. Army’s lead was short lived once Cal was back at full strength as Nic Mirashem, Kevin Sullivan, and Thomas Robles scored in the next 15 minutes to go up 45-29 with 16 minutes left.
Not to be counted out, Army rallied as Jayden Demmy and Austin Rutledge narrowed the margin. With Jon Kim’s conversion with five minutes left, the advantage was only four points.
The Black Knights threatened to score the game-winner as the game wound down but Cal’s defense stood up to the challenge. Starting with a lineout steal, the Bears drove downfield and Christian Dyer scored the final try of the Invitational to win 50-41.
Even with the win, Coach Clark still believes there is plenty of work left for his team to reach their potential. “We are still growing as a team and we look ordinarily in spells, but I also think we are improving and potentially dangerous...We played with 13 players for a stretch. It's not recommended.”
On the other hand, Sherman said, “We take a lot of confidence from this game and we can take a lot of lessons at the same time. We have our best rugby in front of us and it’s always about peaking for Navy in 13 days. We’ll get a lot better from this and we showed we have a good team.”
Army is off this weekend before heading south to Annapolis, Md. for the clash of service academies on March 24th. “It’s always a good game. I think Navy has one of the best teams they have had in a long time. They have a group of seniors that hasn’t won an Army-Navy game. We expect everything they have and more and we are going to bring everything we have and more. I think you are going to see a very tight, physical, and competitive game.”
Cal plays at Utah on Saturday before hosting Dartmouth on March 24th. It all leads up to a potential D1A championship preview on April 7th when the Bears travel to St. Mary’s before the national playoffs begin.