The Golden Bears won the bronze medal match Sunday at the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s, beating Life University, 26-7, at PPL Park. California demonstrated remarkable resolve to bounce back from its narrow semifinal loss only 90 minutes earlier to end its 2012 season with a victory and a 5-1 record at the tournament.
The Bears advanced to the bronze medal match first by beating Texas, 54-5, in the quarterfinal, hanging eight tries on the Longhorns. Cal then moved on to the semifinal to face Dartmouth, which had dispatched Wisconsin, 35-5, earlier in the day. In a back-and-forth contest with three lead changes, Big Green overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to defeat Cal, 21-19.
Faced with the task of rebounding after narrowly missing their chance to dethrone the 2011 CRC 7s champion who went on to beat Arizona to repeat as 2012 champ, the Rugby Bears responded with a crisp performance against a talented Life team, building a 21-0 halftime lead before allowing the Running Eagles' only try late in the contest.
Cal exited the 2012 CRC 7s with a 5-1 record, leaving the tournament with the second-best points differential (+130) behind the Big Green.
"It says everything about this team, where we've come from the fall through a tough 15s season, to a result that didn't go our way, and we still kept fighting," said captain Seamus Kelly. "I can't say enough about the guys and I'm proud of Cal rugby."
Kelly scored the Bears' first try and found out after the match that he has been called up to the U.S. National Team in preparation for its matches against Canada, Georgia and Italy. The junior from Queens, N.Y, won't have much time to rest before he travels to join several former Cal teammates at the assembly.
"It's a dream come true," Kelly said. "You play a sport to reach its highest level. I couldn't happier and I think I'll find some additional reserves down deep."
Connor Ring, who scored Cal's second try of the bronze medal match, was mobbed by his teammates following his last match in a blue-and-gold career that included three national collegiate championships.
"It was very gratifying to come back like that and play hard for one last game," said Ring, the sole member of the team to have graduated, of the bronze medal victory. "These guys mean the world to me. That was some of the best 7s we've played. My Cal career is over but this team gets almost everyone back next year."
The national television audience that waited to see how the Bears would respond to the challenge of playing on the heels of its semifinal disappointment saw a team that grew by leaps and bounds as it punctuated its season with a demonstration of determination.
Sophomore Paul Bosco made 3-of-4 conversions, the last of which came from the far right corner after an impressive try by Josh Tucker. The Cal score line ended with a try by Ahmed Chehade, who had some very good moments in this tournament.
A young Cal team, including the true freshmen Eakalafi Okusi and Andrew Battaglia who ended their first season at the CRC 7s, will return next year eager to build upon its improvement, and it will be joined by a talented incoming class.
"It was a great turnaround," said Battaglia of the bronze. "It was too bad to fall short against Dartmouth but we had to make up for it. We went out there and had a great outcome, and I'm excited for the future."
"I thought the boys did really well," head coach Jack Clark said. "We know we have a ways to go to get to the top of the college 7s game, but I think we showed that we can be part of the elite group of teams. Cal wants to have a good 7s team and we're committed to making it happen."
The Bears will look to play 7s again this autumn in three or four tournaments before its traditional 15s season in the spring.
The Bronze Medal Scoring Timeline vs. Life
02:00 Seamus Kelly 5, Paul Bosco 2
05:00 Connor Ring 5, Paul Bosco 2
07:00 Josh Tucker 5, Paul Bosco 2
Halftime: California 21, Life 0
09:00 Ahmed Chehade 5
11:00 Life (Cornelius Dickson) 5, (Joe Cowley) 2
Final: California 26, Life 7
The Team vs. Life
1. Barrett, 2. Kelly ©, 3. Chehade, 4. Ring, 5. Aronson, 6. Battaglia, 7. Tucker
Replacements: Anderson, Battaglia, Bosco, Coquillard
The Semifinal Scoring Timeline vs. Dartmouth
01:00 Jake Anderson 5
04:00 Dartmouth (Madison Hughes) 5, (Derek Fish) 2
07:00 Ahmed Chehade 5, Alex Aronson 2
Halftime: California 12, Dartmouth 7
9:00 Anthony Lombardo 5, Alex Aronson 2
11:00 Dartmouth (Derek Fish) 5, 2
13:00 Dartmouth (Kevin Clark) 5, (Derek Fish) 2
Final: Dartmouth 21, California 19
The Team vs. Dartmouth
1. Kelly ©, 2. Harrington, 3. Chehade, 4. Ring, 5. Aronson, 6. Anderson, 7. Lombardo
Replacements: Barrett, Battaglia, Bosco
The Quarterfinal Scoring Timeline vs. Texas
01:00 Texas (Eric Allen Luikens) 5
02:00 Danny Barrett 5, Alex Aronson 2
05:00 Seamus Kelly 5, Alex Aronson 2
07:00 Seamus Kelly 5, Alex Aronson 2
Halftime: California 21, Texas 5
08:00 Andrew Battaglia 5, Alex Aronson 2
10: 00 Paul Bosco 5, Alex Aronson 2
12:00 Andre Coquillard 5, Alex Aronson 2
13:00 Brad Harrington 5, 2
14:00 Paul Bosco 5
Final: California 54, Texas 5
The Team vs. Texas
1. Okusi, 2. Battaglia, 3. Barrett, 4. Bosco, 5. Aronson, 6. Kelly ©, 7. Lombrado
Replacements: Chehade, Coquillard, Harrington
Maryland 28, Penn State 26
Florida 29, Temple 24 (OT)
Oklahoma 21, Notre Dame 19
NC State 22, Army 7
Semifinal: Maryland 32, Oklahoma 12
Semifinal: Florida 31 NC State 5
Final: Florida 20, Maryland 14
Life 12, Delaware 5
Dartmouth 35, Wisconsin 5
Arizona 26, Navy 5
California 54, Texas 5
Arizona 19, Life 12
Dartmouth 21, California 19
Bronze Medal Match
California 26, Life 7
Dartmouth 24, Arizona 5
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