Quest for Sixth Straight Title Falls at Foot of Davies, BYU

Photo: Junior wing Blaine Scully leaps above a BYU rugger for a loose ball. A sixth consecutive championship landed just out of Cal's reach, though, as the Cougars won their first-ever title.
David Herschorn/Photo
Junior wing Blaine Scully leaps above a BYU rugger for a loose ball. A sixth consecutive championship landed just out of Cal's reach, though, as the Cougars won their first-ever title.

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For the first time in five years, the Cal rugby team left Steuber Stadium at Stanford without a national title.

With the score tied at 22-22 in Saturday's national title match, the five-time defending champion Bears missed two penalty kicks before committing a knock-on just outside their 22-meter line with two minutes left. Brigham Young scrumhalf Shaun Davies booted the winning penalty kick, capping the Cougars' 25-22 come-from-behind victory and their first-ever national title.

"I just blocked out everything and pretended like I was kicking back at home," Davies said. "It was just the best feeling of my life."

The Bears led by as many as 12 points in the second half, but BYU took advantage of Cal penalties and used center Paul Lasike for a 38-meter penalty kick to tie the match with 11 minutes left in the game.

"After (Lasike) tied it, it was simple -- we just couldn't let anyone through," Davies said.

Those final minutes were the longest of the Cougars' season -- and the shortest of Cal's -- as the Bears tried to stave off the upset. Ultimately, the last minutes of the 2009 championship match rewarded a defense that was strong enough to hold the Bears to only one try and an offense that rolled over the tryline with a two-man disadvantage.

"I thought (BYU) played awfully hard in the end," Cal coach Jack Clark said. "We're a pretty hard-working team and we play pretty hard, but I think they matched us in that capacity. They were a really good foe tonight and you've got to tip your hat."

Clark clapped the hardest as the Cougars were presented with their first national championship trophy and Davies received the MVP award.

"There's only one way to handle this stuff," Clark said. "We get to see people be good and bad sports, and we know what we want to be. I think the boys felt that, honestly. That wasn't a rehearsed thing obviously."

It was one of only six times the 26-year coach has ever witnessed the trophy presentation and not been the recipient. And it was the first time in program history that the Bears have advanced to the championship match and lost.

But just like BYU coach David Smyth said before the start of the final four, his team would need a mammoth effort to upend the Bears.

"Look at what we've done in the playoffs," Smyth said. "We've held Dartmouth. We've held Arkansas State. We've held San Diego State and we've held Cal. They're four potent teams with a potent offense, and we've held every one of those teams to only one try. And if you do that, you give yourself a chance."

The Cougars' defense held Cal to its second-lowest point total of the season, their offense put up 18 points in only 28 minutes and their kicking staff produced under pressure.

Before the start of the match, Davies was the last rugger on the pitch. While the starting lineups were being announced, with all other starters at the gate, the South Africa native was booting ball after ball through the uprights.

The practice paid off.

"I had practiced, and at that point, all I had to do was go through the motions," Davies said.

That isn't to say that Cal's golden boot, senior Keegan Engelbrecht, wasn't up to par.

Although Engelbrecht missed his last two long-distance penalty kicks that could have broken the tie, the senior flyhalf accounted for 17 of Cal's 22 points with five penalty kicks and one conversion on Eric Fry's try in the second half.

"It helped to get up early," Engelbrecht said. "It was tipping in our favor, but at the end of the day we just didn't finish the game. We tried, but we struggled to get any kind of offense, any kind of attack and any kind of rhythm.

"They're scoring tries and we're kicking, so they're going to catch up sooner or later. When we don't play the way we want to play, that's what happens-we lose national championships."


Contact Caroline Ogawa at [email protected]

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