BOULDER, Colo. – Two games from the California Conference opened the league’s competition Feb. 13. Saint Mary’s began its quest for yet another Conference title by beating San Diego State convincingly. In Santa Barbara, No. 20 Santa Clara fought off a stubborn Gauchos squad, 41-31.
Saint Mary’s 61 – 7 San Diego State
The Gaels burned the Aztecs on their home pitch for four tries in the first frame, including a double from All-American Dylan Audsley. The Saint Mary’s backline found room to run, but the reigning National Champions didn’t get the chance to exploit the entire width of the field.
“It was an odd game – lot’s of hack rugby where athleticism overtakes pattern and structure,” said Saint Mary’s Head Coach Tim O’Brien. “Often that equates to long-range tries.”
Of the Gaels’ nine tries, only one was scored by a forward – captain Kevin O’Connor. Still, the forward pack had plenty to say in the one-sided win.
“Make no mistake, our forwards set up 80 percent of our scores,” added O’Brien.
Saint Mary’s showed up to play defensively, as well, refusing to allow San Diego State to get beyond the endline until the match’s final play. The effort on defense was noticeably sharp throughout the game, even as the Gaels unloaded its bench between the 43rd and 65th-minute.
“The reserves stepped in pretty seamlessly,” O’Brien noted. “A few of them were quite young as we brought two teams to San Diego, and the side that stayed home to play Stanford included a very experienced pack.”
The 54-point win over the 12th-ranked Aztecs was a good starting point for Saint Mary’s, but it’s likely the team has already shifted its attention to next week’s foe – BYU. San Diego State, meanwhile, gets right back into conference play next weekend in another home game against UC Santa Barbara.
Santa Clara 41 – 31 UC Santa Barbara
Back-to-back long strikes from Asad Braswell gave Santa Clara an early 12-0 lead in its clash against UC Santa Barbara. What looked like a long day at the office for the home team turned into a Gaucho lead when flankers David Cota and Ben Lazarevic scored tries to push their team ahead, 14-12.
Santa Clara Head Coach Paul Keeler signals to mental lapses defensively as to how Santa Barbara was able to hit back so effectively.
“We got on them early and the boys started trying to make things happen instead of creating and taking opportunities,” said Keeler. “We simply got off script on defense and started to chase the ball instead of defending as a unit.”
Matt Fitzgerald regained the lead for Santa Clara with a penalty kick, and was soon followed by a try from eight man Jack O’Hara to increase the lead, 22-14, after Fitzgerald’s successful conversion.
An exchange of tries closed the first half at a 27-19 Santa Clara advantage. The Broncos widen the gap in the second half with two tries by Ryan Chavkin and one from Nick Russo. Santa Clara’s outside backs had plenty of highlights in the first 60 minutes, but were put in the position to succeed thanks to slick handling amongst the forward pack.
“We are trying to play quick ball with a lot of width to our game,” Keeler said. “The great part is that some of these tries were set up by passes from our frontrowers. It’s great to see, and exciting to watch, when everyone is touching the ball.”
Down but not out, UC Santa Barbara counterpunched with tries of their own, this time scored by No. 8 Erick Resendiz and reserve Ryan Cook. The Late scores were not enough, as Santa Clara returned to the South Bay victors, 41-31.
Santa Clara is off until Feb. 27 when it gives Cal Poly its first taste of conference play. UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State will be in search if their first California win Feb. 20.