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The D1A PAC Conference was in full effect on Saturday as the heavy hitters squared off in Tuscon while UCLA and Utah played non-conference opponents. Second-ranked Cal took the show on the road to #9 Arizona and turned in a balanced performance to win 48-17. As for UCLA, the #25 Bruins came back on the #16 San Diego State to force a 23-23 tie on the last play of the game. Lastly, #17 Utah fell in a back and forth battle to #15 Grand Canyon, 48-34.
Coming off three wins last week, Cal trekked to Tuscon, Ariz. to play the Wildcats, who are also on a three-game winning streak. Arizona tried their best but could not stop the Bears en route to a 48-17 victory. Cal found the endzone eight times on Saturday as Kevin Saunders, Kevin Sullivan, Christian Dyer, Thomas Robles, Aidan Flynn, Thomas Spradling, and Keanu Andrade (2) scored with flyhalf Elliot Webb connecting on five conversions.
When asked how the Bears played against Arizona, Cal head coach Jack Clark, "We were mostly solid, nothing outstanding, but good enough as a growing team... We are slowly improving. We are a work in progress."
As for the Wildcats, head coach Sean Duffy said, “We played well in spurts, but disappointed with our performance. We look forward to hopefully seeing them again in D1A playoffs if they choose to attend.” Dylan Hudson, Dante Weeks, and Tyler Hansen scored for Arizona and Anton Grigoriou was one for three on conversions.
Both squads play Arizona State next, but then take different paths to make themselves better clubs. Cal will play a doubleheader that includes its annual match against the University of British Columbia while Arizona goes on tour to Argentina. The Wildcats will play a pair of clubs in Buenos Aires and Mar Del Plata and then return to the USA to play SDSU on March 17th.
Coach Clark will use the UBC match as an important measuring stick to determine Cal’s development. “[UBC] is a very good side. We are looking forward to the occasions. This said the match's importance to our schedule has changed. Understandably, UBC has evolved into a non-collegiate team by the standards of US collegiate sport and Canadian collegiate sport. By way of eligibility, they better reflect senior clubs in British Columbia. This is no longer the historic competition it was, it is different but still valuable to us as 80 minutes of challenging rugby. Something old and historic has been lost, but there is still value in competing against a good team."
On a beautiful day in San Diego, Calif., SDSU welcomed UCLA to the Mesa and were on its way to victory until two yellow cards two minutes apart in the final ten minutes opened the door for a Bruin comeback.
After mounting a 23-11 lead with tries from Ari Flink and Harrison Barkham and three penalties from Carlos Ramirez, SDSU’s misfortune turned into UCLA’s opportunity. With the two-man advantage in the last minutes, UCLA stormed back with tries from Matt Williams and Patrick Regan. Regan’s try on the final play of the game tied it at 23-23 with only the conversion left. After connecting on two penalties and a conversion earlier, fullback Eric Naposki’s final attempt was off target and the match was declared a draw.
SDSU head coach Alex Lichtig was pleased with his team’s effort but added that the Aztecs are still working to see what type of team it is this season “We played well most of the match working through phases on attack and applying pressure on defense. The inability to exit from deep in our zone and penalties hurt us quite a bit in the first half. Penalties continued to plague us through the match as we failed to make adjustments.”
When asked about the end of the game, Lichtig responded, “It was good to see the defensive effort in the last ten minutes. It's not easy to defend 13 on 15 and I think the boys did everything they could to try and maintain the result. In the end, UCLA is a strong side and was able to capitalize with some strong runners on attack and the ability to move the ball wide to attack space."
From the UCLA perspective, head coach Scott Stewart was proud of his team and enjoyed the great game of rugby. “Both teams had their chances to win the game and it was evenly contested throughout... The momentum shifted often for both teams and in the last ten minutes, it was our bench that brought us back by staying calm and taking their chances.”
“SDSU is a well organized and physical team especially on the narrow field which definitely required strategy to gain territory,” Stewart added. “The main takeaway was our patience and confidence that we could come back especially when the Aztecs gained momentum in the second half.”
Utah looked to right the ship after last week’s loss to Arizona but was defeated by Grand Canyon, 48-34. In Salt Lake City, Utah, the clash was tight all the way through with each team seizing the momentum. Both clubs had their chances, but GCU outlasted Utah in the final minutes to score the final three tries to win.
GCU’s Maceo Brown scored the game’s first two tries, but Utah surged back with four tries for the 22-12 lead. Brown tacked on his third and fourth tries to sandwich halftime before GCU’s Roddy Hamilton added to the lead to make it 29-22 with 25 minutes left.
Never giving up, the Utes came back with back-to-back tries to grab the 34-29 advantage setting up the final stretch of the game. Starting in the 74th minute, Christian Bucklin, Suwaiter Poch, and Bo Epperson powered the Lopes to a 48-34 victory.
Describing the match, GCU head coach Cam Wyper said, “we jumped out to an early 12-0 lead and after that, we made a lot of errors and gave away a lot of penalties. At this level and with a team like Utah, you just can’t afford those mistakes."
“I just told the boys to relax a little and just to play our structure,” Wyper stated. “We managed to do that and after a couple of big plays, we managed to come away with the win. Cameron Dodson, Suwaiter Poch, Brendon Curle, and alongside our man of the match Maceo Brown were exceptional.”
Wyper’s main takeaway from the match was “for us, it’s that we can compete at this level. Also, it adds a little more confidence for our boys that we can grind out a win against a quality opposition.”