GRR on X  GRR on Facebook GRR in Instagram GRR Vimeo Library GRR on YouTube RuggaMatrix America Podcasts Support GRR on Patreon

De La Salle Wins Northern California in a Classic

irish rugby tours

De La Salle Wins Northern California in a Classic

De La Salle in green and gray, Granite Bay in white. David Barpal photo.

In an absolute classic De La Salle edged by Granite Bay to win the Northern California Premier final.

Ranked #2 among school teams, De La Salle beat the #1-ranked HS club 24-22, scoring in the final moments to secure the regional championships. This adds to De La Salle's all-California school title that they won over Torrey Pines in March.

Both teams knew they had to produce their best rugby for this game. They had not met each other but had played the same opponents, with their record and scores eerily similar.

The game started with De La Salle receiving the opening kickoff and struggling to get through the Granite Bay defense to get out of their own end. 

It took more than 10 minutes for the Spartans to really get going. Finally they found some space and flyhalf Michael Freeman shot through, fended off the a defense, and was in. The conversion was good and score was 7-0. 

Granite Bay took advantage of a knock on after the restart and after some hard runs got a penalty shot right in front of the posts, which they took to make it 7-3.  Neither team could really break free as both sides played tenacious defense. Finally with time running out in the first half Granite Bay took a quick-tap off a penalty and scrumhalf Avion Ganse-Lira raced on for 50 meters before he was dragged down. The Grizzly forwards consolidated nicely and blasted it over to make it 8-7 at halftime.

Both teams needed to make adjustments at halftime and coming into the second half De La Salle looked solid in the set piece, which created a better platform for their backline. Despite some big breaks the Spartans could not get closer to the tryline. Freeman did slot a penalty to put his side ahead 10-8. 

Granite Bay struck back with several phases and found space around the edge to score and, with the conversion led 15-10. JJ Tofaeono had a huge day for De La Salle at outside center and he made a big play here, breaking off a 40-meter run off the back of a scrum and he was in under the posts.

The conversion put De La Salle up 17-15. 

With 10 minutes left and the lead De La Salle looked to take control, maintaining possession and building on the lead. Not so fast. Just as they were marching their way down the field they knocked the ball on and Granite Bay fullback Thomas Masi scooped the ball up and charged off 80 meters to score. The conversion was good and Granite Bay was back in the lead 22-17.

Back came De La Salle, throwing the butcher's block at Granite Bay trying to get that lead back. Both teams would absorb pressure, steal the ball, and charge ahead only to find themselves back on defense. Finally, it was mistakes as much as anything else finished it off. Granite Bay was penalized for two high tackles. De La Salle opted for a scrum on what they knew was the final play

Tofaeono took a crash ball and dragged three Granite Bay defenders with him. The ball was quickly sent to Dom Besag, who powered ahead before being tackled 10 meters from paydirt. Quick recycle one more time and then Andrew Jullien (just back from a broken tibia in the Torrey Pines game in March) received a pass and ran through a defender for the score. That tied it at 22-22, with Freeman setting up a tough-angled kick.

Both sets of fans went deathly quiet as Freeman put the ball right through the uprights to win the game 24-22.

"I can't say enough about how impressive Granite Bay was," said De La Salle Head Coach Derek Holmberg. "They are really fit and athletic boys who make you earn everything. Coach Chris Miller and his staff have to be really happy with the year they've had. I would be shocked if they didn't win it all at Nationals."

De La Salle won't be going to nationals because it is finals and graduation.

"This loss stings but is acceptable because De La Salle is a good team" said Miller. "It's unfortunate they're not going to nationals. They're big, strong, and fit. Derek is doing a great job" 

"For us, it has been quite the year," added Holmberg. "Winning the single school championship and then capping it off with the Premier Cup against the #1 team in the country—couldn't be prouder of my boys and who they are as young men."

Tofaeono, Freeman, Vaughan Fouts, and Matthew Abbes were the players of the game for De La Salle while No. 8 Frankie Cusano, along with Ganse-Lira and Masi were outstanding for Granite Bay.