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In a wild, tense game that did not fail to deliver, BYU edged Cal 27-24 in the Varsity Cup championship match Saturday afternoon in Provo, Utah.

BYU led 16-3 early, and held off a late Cal charge in front of a vocal and partisan crowd.

BYU got on the board first, Jonny Linehan racing in for the first try of the game. The Cougars opted to run out of their own 22 after winning a messy lineout. Centers Seki Kofe and Paul Lasike combined to ramble well into Cal territory. Quick ball out to Linehan, and the flyhalf grubbered ahead. Cal fullback Jake Anderson saw the ball bounce off his chest and into Linehan’s arms, and the flyhalf was away to the tryline.

Linehan converted to make it 7-0.

Cal spent a good portion of time in the BYU end. Wing Josh Tucker beat several defenders on a scything run to the posts, but the last defender just caught him. Cal pressed, but couldn’t punsh it in, and instead had to content themselves with a penalty. Anderson easily kicked the penalty.

Linehan replied on a tough-angled kick to make it 10-3, and the physical BYU team pushed for two more to make it 16-3.

Nearing the end of the first half, Cal rebounded, as expected. Through a sloppy sequence of play when both teams just hammered each other, often forcing knock-ons, Cal at least stemmed the bleeding. Finally they got a lineout inside the BYU 22. They mauled it, and then spun the ball wide, but the BYU backline defense was too good. Finally, though, the Cougars committed a penalty in the ruck, and Cal flyhalf Russell Webb tapped quickly and snaked over. Anderson’s kick was good and that made it 16-10.

The Bears came right back to pressure BYU, and got another tap penalty near the Cougar line, but they couldn’t quite punch it in. Even a very makeable kick just at the end of the first 40 from Anderson didn’t go over.

Cal was again on the front foot in the second half. Somehow Nick Boyer was just stopped from getting to the line, but even then the Bears were in prime scoring position. But a fumbled pass turned the ball over to Jordan Lowery, who raced 90 meters. Only an incredible play from Tucker stopped him from scoring. The BYU forwards were there quickly and they seemed to have scored. However, it all had to come back, as referee Brian Zapp had already called an offside penalty against Cal.

Perhaps Zapp should have run a longer advantage, but in the end, BYU took the penalty, worked their way down the field, using Paul Lasike to punish the Cal defense. Ultimately, Danny Barrett was pinged for diving over in the ruck, and Linehan slotted the penalty to make it 19-10.

The Bears pushed forward after that, and after BYU flanker Kyle Sumsion was yellow-carded for a late hit, Cal took the lineout and mauled to the Cougar line.

It was slow going, but in the end, Cal did the job, and Jack O’Beirne was the man with the ball under the pile. 19-15 BYU led.

Penalties, however, hurt Cal as well. Ryan Roundy was surging through the Cal defense and his pass was knocked forward by Tucker. A Cal player caught that ball from an offside position, so it would have been a penalty anyway, but Referee Zapp adjudged that Tucker had deliberately knock-on the ball. He showed Tucker a yellow card, and the Cougars had a lineout five meters out.

BYU mauled it, got another penalty, another lineout, and a long throw just rescued by the Bears.

But the ball remained ensconced in the Cal 22, and just when it seemed Cal would get out of it, Sumsion – back on the field now – stole the ball in the ruck, and raced off to the line. We was stopped, but the BYU forwards were queuing up on the right-hand side, and lock TJ Allred took a pass on the gallop and powered over, much to the delight of the sellout crowd.

That try made it 24-17 with eight minutes to go.

Cal needed a bit of magic, and got it from sub center Jesse Milne. After they got a penalty and took the lineout, the Bears ran it through the backs. Milne broke a tackle and finally was hauled down inches before the line. His center partner and captain, Seamus Kelly, was right there and Milne popped the pass to his teammate. Kelly was in under the posts, and with Anderson’s conversion Cal had tied the game after trailing the entire game.

Still shorthanded, Cal now had the momentum. With the ball again, Cal attacked the BYU line, but excellent tackling from Hoseki Kofe, and quick work from the forwards forced a penalty. BYU took the lineout, and while that didn’t work out too well, Cal knocked the loose ball forward, and BYU took a scrum about 35 meters from the Cal line.

Now it was time to do the basics. Lasike went up the gut, and then out wide to Lowery. Somehow the Cal defense was there. Tucker, back on the field, touched the ball down for a scrum-five.

Time for one more surge. Roundy picked and ran, but was held up somehow. One more scrum, and perhaps a drop goal opportunity begging. Roundy went again, the Cougars recycled, and Linehan took the pass right in front of the posts, he took a quick look, and calmly dropped a goal like it was the easiest thing in the world.

The kick was good, and immediately Referee Zapp called time. Linehan, a freshman from Auckland New Zealand, was mobbed.

BYU 27
Tries: Linehan, Allred
Convs: Linehan
Pens: Linehan 4
DGs: Linehan

Cal 24
Tries: Webb, O’Beirne, Kelly
Convs: Anderson 3
Pens: Anderson