The Eastern and Western Regional Championships (national semifinals) were played over the weekend. Going into the fixtures they looked to be appealing and closely matched. Few could have predicted the late drama which enveloped both games.
In the first semifinal of the weekend Saint Mary’s hosted Cal in Moraga, California. While each side had held the number one spot in the country at some point during the regular season, Cal entered as the favorites to advance to the finals in Santa Clara.
Saint Mary’s were the first to score by way of a penalty kick in the 14th minute by scrumhalf Sean Yacoubian. Minutes later though Cal hooker Jack Manzo crashed over for the first try of the game, his try was successfully converted by flyhalf Samuel Walsh putting Cal up 7-3 over Saint Mary’s after 20 minutes.
Cal would extend their lead with a try from eight-man Sam Golla eight minutes later with flyhalf Walsh again successfully converting the kick, pushing the score to 14-3.
With a minute left before half time Saint Mary’s struck back, with outside center Tavite Lopeti taking a pass right off the scrum to crash over the try line for five points. Yacoubian converted it and the Gaels were within four points.
However, Cal would have the last say in the half though as flyhalf Walsh would beat three defenders before diving in beneath the posts to score a try at the end of the half. Walsh would convert his own try to extend Cal’s lead at the half to 21-10 over Saint Mary’s.
The Gaels were first on the scoreboard in the second half, as in the 58th minute flanker Ronan Murphy would take an offload from Yacoubian and would burst in to score. The kick was successfully converted bringing Saint Mary’s back to within four.
In the 74th minute Saint Mary’s would again score, this time with flanker Murphy feeding his scrumhalf Yacoubian with an offload to score in the corner. Yacoubian would successfully convert his try from the sideline to put Saint Mary’s up 24-21, with less than three minutes left to play.
With no time on the clock, Cal busted up through the Saint Mary’s defense and were able to swing the ball wide to winger Sam Cusano, who broke through one defender before running the remaining 20 meters to score. The try booked Cal’s spot in the final in Santa Clara. Walsh would maintained his perfect kicking record on the day, successfully converting the try and cap off the Cal win 28-24.
In the second semi-final matchup Life and Lindenwood faced each other for the third time this year. Life entered the match undefeated and as the reigning national champions. Each side began the game trading penalty kicks until Life outside center Harley Wheeler scored the first try of the match, bringing the score to 8-6 in favor of Life.
Life scored once more right before half time when lock Daemon Torres slid in to score. Flyhalf Duncan Van Schalkwyk would convert the try before halftime to extend Life’s lead to 15-6. Lindenwood drew first blood in the second half, thanks to another penalty from Reece Botha. Life’s stingy defense cracked in the the 54th minute, when inside center Anelisa Mteto broke through the Life defense to score. Botha’s conversion, put Lindenwood ahead 16-15. The Lions would extend their lead with another penalty kick minutes later.
Any jubilation felt by Lindenwood was short lived, as Life would retake the lead in the 67th minute, via a try from winger Julian Roberts. The Running Eagles once again had the lead, 20-19.
The win was sealed, as lock Daemon Torres scored his second of the match. The successful conversion padded Life’s lead over Lindenwood to 27-19.
Life now moves on to take on Cal in a rematch of last year’s final in Santa Clara.
The games will be broadcast through CBS Sports and Streamed on FloRugby.
Tickets are available from collegerugby.live