LAFAYETTE, Colo. – There is only one California Conference contest scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 18, but it is a crucial one. Santa Clara is set to host Cal Poly in a match pitting two sides desperate to move up in the California standings.
The California Conference has sent three teams to the D1A Playoffs the past two years. And while that number isn’t guaranteed this spring, the second place team from the conference is surely to earn a postseason bid – and possibly host its opening round match.
“We all want second. Second-place is quite possibly a home playoff match,” said Santa Clara Head Coach Paul Keeler.
After getting waxed by third-ranked Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara managed to even its California record and make a statement by beating UC Santa Barbara convincingly, 55-21.
“We had solid defense with good line speed – that must come first,” Keeler said of the team’s performance against the Gauchos. “We also were very explosive on attack and moved the ball well.”
Some of the explosiveness Keeler is referring to come from danger-man Asad Braswell. The speedy winger scored the Broncos’ first two tries in the 34-point victory.
Like Santa Clara, Cal Poly took one on the chin earlier this year against one of the nation’s best in No. 1 Cal. The Mustangs fell to the Golden Bears 73-7 a couple weeks ago. Regardless of the one-sided scoreline, Cal Poly was able to take away a few positives from the tail end of the match against Cal.
“Even considering the strength of our opposition, we failed to execute some basic plays and made a number of unforced mistakes,” Cal Poly Head Coach James Tesoriero said. “During the second half we were much more competitive, and the final 20 minutes of the game we were relatively even with Cal. So, that should give our guys confidence going into this weekend.”
Last season, Cal Poly upended Santa Clara by just 13 points when playing on its home turf. This season’s fixture moves to Santa Clara, making the Feb. 18 bout likely to be decided by an even slimmer margin.
“Over the last few seasons we have had very competitive matches against Santa Clara,” Tesoriero added. “We tend to get the upper-hand in the scrum and control possession, but they have very dangerous outside backs and tend to keep the game extremely close on the strength of their long range scoring ability.”
Both teams still have a difficult obligation in playing No. 19 San Diego State later in the season. The team that loses Saturday between Cal Poly and Santa Clara won’t be erased from the playoff picture, but will need to play near flawless rugby down the stretch to get itself in the National Championship tournament.