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In May of 2003, Air Force upset California 46-28 in the west regional Collegiate D-1 semis. The winning team awaited the final contest for the Collegiate D-1 championship against Cinderella Harvard.
The event marked the absence of the Cal Bears for the first time in 13-years. Cal, which had won 12 consecutive national college titles (19 titles total in 23 years) also experienced their first domestic loss in six-years.
In a thrilling semi-final match, Harvard beat Army 27-26 for the first time in three-years. Seeded 15th, the Crimson, had scant expectations of competing for their second D-1 title, the first dating back to 1983. The Ivy League school made it to the final on two other occasions, and their hopes for the crown were buoyed after beating number five seed Army. Harvard scored wins earlier against Utah and Penn State.
Air Force was blessed with 600-football recruitments that could only fill 100-playing positions. So, all the Air Force XV were new rugby recruits. The Colorado-based Academy was gunning for a third national rugby championship.
Harvard, which played the first USA rugby game in 1874 against McGill of Montreal, had a long history of the sport, numbering two Kennedys, Joe Junior, who played for the Eastern All Stars against touring Cambridge University in 1936, and Ted Kennedy.
Air Force broke out to a 25-14 half time lead, extending that margin to 32-18 in the second period. Slowly, Harvard chipped away, eventually, tying the game at 37-37 with ten-minutes remaining. Air Force substituted fresh legs for the game's final moments, notching a try and a penalty, enough for the well-deserved 45-37, eight-point victory.
Cal thrashed Army 75-3 in the consolation game for third place.
(Life University versus California is on tap this weekend for the 2018 Collegiate Championship. Good luck to both fifteens.)