Cal, UCLA open PAC victoriously

D1A Rugby: Cal, UCLA open PAC victoriously
Photo Credit: Alex Ho

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Last year’s top two teams in the PAC began the conference season in victorious fashion Saturday, Jan. 21. Cal welcomed Arizona to Berkeley, where it beat the Wildcats, 39-12, while ULCA used a spirited second half to overcome Arizona State in the desert.

No. 2 Cal 39 – 12 No. 17 Arizona

A week after going a perfect 4-0 at the Dennis Storer Classic, Cal earned its first PAC win of the year by beating Arizona, 39-12. The Golden Bears received an unexpected explosion of offense from prop Kevin Sullivan in the win. The senior loose head scored Cal’s first three tries and added a fourth in the second half.

Already up 17-0, Sullivan finally allowed a teammate to find the try zone when full back Troy Lockyear scored in the 35th minute to put Cal ahead, 22-0, at halftime.

Arizona managed to get on the scoreboard five minutes into the second half thanks to hooker Zach Briggs’ try. The momentum, however, was short-lived for the Wildcats. Sebastian Bader was the third Bear to score. After Russell Webb’s successful conversion, Sullivan bagged his fourth try and eight man Drew Gaffney spread Cal’s lead to 34-5 with a score of his own.

Arizona scrum half Matt Rogers cut into the lead by converting his own try in the closing minutes, but the damage had already been done. The Wildcats’ 27-point defeat was a much better showing than last year’s 61-12 result between the two teams. Still, both sides will find plenty to improve on from their PAC opener.

Cal will remain at home for its second PAC match of the year – a Jan. 28 date with Utah. The Wildcats hope to get back into the win column Jan. 28 against Utah Valley in Tucson, Ariz.

No. 12 UCLA 38 – 15 Arizona State

The PAC opener between the Bruins and Sun Devils was a back-and-forth affair before UCLA tightened its screws defensively.

Three lead changes highlighted the first half’s action. An initial try by hooker Sterling Hulsebus and 10 points from fly half Alex Walsh helped build a 15-10 lead for Arizona State at intermission. The Bruins’ sluggish start was not only a product of playing their first road match of the year, but also the effect of some sturdy winds that played against UCLA in the first half.

“It took time to build the pressure and there was a strong wind against us for the first 40 minutes, but once we got going the tries presented themselves and the players finished them,” said PAC Commissioner and UCLA Head Coach Scott Stewart.

With the wind now in their favor, backs James Francis and Connor Bercik regained the lead for the Bruins with back-to-back tries and conversions from full back Daniel Thomas. Ten minutes later, hooker Patrick LaFontaine pushed his side’s lead to 31-15 with a converted try, and scrum half Patrick French dotted down late in the game for good measure.

Prior to UCLA running in four tries in the closing 20 minutes, a trio of forward reserves – Darius Collins, Drew Karson and Henry Wadsworth – came on and provided a spark on a day when an ailing forward pack really needed it.

“We had some injuries, so the forwards coming on were sharing the workload and spreading the minutes across the whole team,” Stewart said. “Subs always help add energy, especially after battling the wind for the first 40 minutes.”

The Bruins head back to Arizona for their next match, a Feb. 4 fixture against the University of Arizona. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils take a brief break from its PAC schedule to host 10th-ranked Air Force Jan. 28 before resuming conference play the following week at home against USC.