Three ranked PAC teams, as well as a newcomer to the conference, are set to play Saturday, Jan. 26, with momentum and resolve abound early in 2017.
No. 2 California vs. No. 14 Utah
The Bears continued to roll following a successful Dennis Storer Classic earlier this month, as the team cruised to a win over Arizona to open up conference play. Highlighted by four tries by loose head prop Kevin Sullivan, Cal boosted to victory in large part to a high-scoring first half. Meanwhile, All-American fly half Russell Webb is coming off a two-conversion game and looks to continue being a dominant factor in the back line.
On the other side, Utah enters its first conference match of the year coming off a 55-12 . All-American forward Chad Gough and lock Caleb Meyer were the lone contributors on the scoreboard for the Utes, while the team seemed to rally defensively in the second half against the Gaels, limiting them to two tries in the final 40 minutes.
Saturday’s contest is set for 1 p.m. PT.
No. 16 Arizona vs. USC
The Wildcats struggled offensively against Cal, especially in the opening half, in large part due to penalties and failing to convert in Bears’ territory. It was not an ideal follow up to the team’s victory over Santa Clara earlier this month, but defensively saw success in the opening and closing 20 minutes. Hooker Zach Biggs’ try put Arizona on the board in the 45th minute, the only offensive action until the final minutes.
With the majority of last year’s roster still intact, the talent pool for the ranked Wildcats is spread across the field. In the front are notable loose forwards Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Hansen to watch, alongside All-American hooker Steven Branham. Defensively is senior captain Kyle Rogers, who will be a key cog in the backs.
USC, meanwhile, faces its first test as the newest member of the PAC Conference as well as D1A Rugby. Despite the step up in competition, the Trojans’ talent is not to be underestimated, and optimism remains high.
“Regardless of where we play, pride must represent a central tenant of any
program,” Head Coach Dominic Riebli said. “We expect to see players of similar experience take the field in those match-ups in order to moderate the level of competition.”
Kian Azizirad and Michael Cesar aim to be early leaders as forwards, and the proven talent of incoming transfer Luc Desroches will add to positive results both on and off the field.
“I’ve appreciated Luc’s leadership more than his experience,” Riebli added. “While some players have struggled to adjust [to] the larger requirements on their time and energy, Luc has led the charge. He arrives on time, pays attention, asks questions, helps his teammates, and gives maximum effort. Any program would feel blessed to have him.”
Desroches will not be the only transfer adding to the Trojan talent, as Pepperdine University transfer Kurt McNally will bolster the roster, as well as Sean Cooper, a former football walk on.
The Wildcats-versus-Trojans tilt is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. MT.