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It’s been turned into a Vine. It’s been dubbed over. And thanks to Deadpsin, it’s been shared all over the internet and back.
From the outsider’s view, it was an entertaining spectacle. For referee Leah Berard, it was cause for a yellow card. From Cal’s perspective, it was a key turning point in the final seconds of a tied title game. And for Kutztown’s Bilal Hassen, it’s a moment he’d likely rather forget.
“It’s a turnover ball. I just took the ball. Everybody makes mistakes, and that’s it,” Hassen said when asked about the slam after the game.
With just over a minute to play in the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship final, Kutztown had scored a try to draw level with Cal, 12-12. The defending champs were advancing up the field when Andrew Battaglia was tackled. Hassen, not involved in the tackle, came in to rightfully play the ball. Battaglia never released, and Berard blew the whistle indicating a penalty on Cal.
Paul Bosco, who came in support of Battaglia, kept holding onto Hassen even after the whistle, wrapping his arm around the defender’s head, and seemingly his neck, while holding onto the ball. Hassen lifted Bosco over his head and violently slammed him to the ground.
Berard blew the whistle again, indicating another penalty. Cal captain Jake Anderson appealed to the referee for the call. Hassen exchanged a few words with Bosco, shooting him a smile before bearing his pearly whites for the massive throng of Kutztown fans in the stands. Berard conferred with her assistant referee and sent Hassen off with a yellow card.
The remaining 10 seconds ticked off the clock without Cal scoring, but the champs got the better end of a 50/50 call at the breakdown in the second half, and Anderson casually exploited the man advantage immediately for the game winner.
“I had a lot of space on both sides of that defender, so I’m going to back myself in a moment like that and come up big for the team,” Anderson said of the overtime try.
There was still rugby to play, but when an attacking penalty for Kutztown was turned into a sin bin that would extend into overtime, the writing was on the wall.
“He lifted up Paul and flipped him over on his back,” recalled Anderson, who stood just a few feet from the altercation. “It could have been a red card, a dangerous tackle like that, so it was a big moment for us to get that call.”
With post-slam bravado replaced by post-loss blues, Hassen was asked how it felt to lose the way Kuztown did.
“It is difficult, but that’s part of the game. There’s nothing I can do about it... I put my whole team under this pressure,” he said, showing contrition.
In the immediate aftermath of a second-straight close loss to Cal in the CRC final, Kutztown 7s coach Larry Chester was teary eyed and disappointed, but resolute in support of his team.
“I honestly don’t remember it,” he said of the slam. “We always respect what the refs call. We can’t convince them to change it. We just hope that our guys will persevere and push through it. Cal’s an excellent program, but I think we’re starting to get there.”
Kutztown entered the weekend with a staggering 42-2 record, having won eight tournaments throughout the season. In comparison, Cal had won just two. But KU was upset in pool play on day one and had to scramble to get into the Cup round. The Golden Bears were then ruthless in reaching the final.
“Navy came out inspired. We played out of our system. They beat us by 10,” said Chester of the pool loss.
“Our thing was there’s multiple ways to get in a house. We tried to go through the front door the first day. It didn’t quite work, so they left the back window open for us. We just snuck in and did our thing. I’m proud of them.”
The hometown favorites lost to the perennial favorites by less than a try last year, too, but that loss, perhaps partially because of this year’s dramatic finish, hurt less.
“Last year was a lot easier to swallow,” said Chester. “Pregame, [NBC commentator Brian] Hightower asked me, ‘At what point did you guys feel like you can be back here?’ And I said the second we lost to Cal last year. That’s the second we made the decision we would be back here.
“It just happened again, and we’ll be back – 360 days. We’ll give them five days off.”