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Drama Continues: Last-Play Win for Stanford

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Drama Continues: Last-Play Win for Stanford

Cal capitalized on Stanford's turnovers and scored several long-range tries. (Photo: Hector Garcia Molina)

(Stanford Rugby Release)

Stanford extended its Pacific Mountain Conference record to 3-0 by dramatically coming back to defeat Cal on the road in the final play of the game. With only three minutes remaining, Stanford trailed by nine points, before a Stanford try and conversion was followed by a last second penalty opportunity from 20 meters out. All-American flyhalf Nikki Richardson coolly slotted the make-or-break kick, taking the victory for the Cardinal 27-26.

The opening five minutes of the game were perhaps Stanford’s best of the day, as they worked 18 phases to the Cal goal line. One phase away from the line, Stanford conceded possession and Cal cleared its lines, a moment that foreshadowed an event that occurred multiple times throughout the game. Over the next five minutes, Stanford was turned over a meter out from the line, then get called for a forward pass on a try. Finally in the ninth minute, Stanford pressure led to a score. The Stanford forwards took a Cal scrum, which the Stanford backs spun wide for a strong finish from winger Dani McDonald.

Eight minutes later it was Cal’s turn to score from a wheeled Stanford scrum. Cal turned over possession and moved the ball wide on the second phase. Cal fullback CJ Whiteside, a threat all day, broke a drifting Stanford defense and finished from half way out for Cal to lead 7-5.

Stanford struck back quickly through center Madda Wilson on a weaving run through the Cal defense; Richardson converted for a 12-5 lead. Over the next few minutes, Cal was able to enjoy one of their only extended periods of play deep in Stanford territory, but the Cardinal defense held. Stanford eventually got out of their half, and were again turned over right on the Cal line. By the 33rd minute, Stanford’s pressure led to more points when lock Julia Howell crossed the line.

Stanford appeared to have a safe lead and momentum at 17-7 with minutes left in the half, and again threatened the Cal line, when they lost the handle on the ball. Cal moved the ball wide and were able to successfully offload through three Stanford tackles to Whiteside for an 80-meter movement. Stanford responded by working the ball deep into Cal territory before again losing the handle on possession just 10 meters out. In the dying moments of the half, Stanford was turned over at the ruck in Cal territory and slow to react. The result was another long-range Cal score from Whiteside to close the half and give the Bears a 19-17 halftime lead.

While Stanford had the majority of field position in the first half, they dominated field position in the second half. Almost the entire final 40 minutes were played in Cal’s territory. However, while Stanford turnovers left a number of scoring opportunities in the first half, those errors accelerated in the second half, when time after time possession was lost through handling errors just when it looked as if Stanford would break the Cal line. Credit is owed to a resolute and sure-tackling Cal defense who not only held Stanford out, but were able to capitalize on their errors and score from long range.

They’d did so again in the 53rd minute when an errant Stanford pass, on what looked to be another positive possession deep in Cal territory, was scooped up by Cal outside center Kelly Doran, who raced 80 meters to the goal line. Stanford now trailed by two scores at 17-26.

The broken record of Stanford’s dominating field position squandered by turnovers continued for the rest of the half. Finally in the dying minutes, scrumhalf Esther Melton darted through the defense from a penalty, Richardson converted and Stanford trailed 24-26 with three minutes left.

Stanford handled the kickoff, kicked back into Cal territory and earned a scrum for the game’s final play. From second phase, a Cal infringement gave Richardson a shot at the victory from 20 meters out. The calm kicker cleanly struck the ball through the posts for the game winner, 27-26 Stanford.

For Stanford, their second late come-from-behind victory in three weeks was another demonstration of the team’s resiliency and ability to play from behind. Furthermore, Stanford was able to successfully play most of the game in Cal’s territory. However, Stanford struggled to convert on countless opportunities. Forced passes, handling errors and various other lost possession left countless opportunities wanting. Furthermore, when possession was lost in Cal’s end, Stanford was slow to recover and unable to finish tackles. The result was four Cal tries from over 50 meters out, all from turnovers. Nonetheless, while lacking precision, Stanford’s passion and urgency, particularly in the dying minutes of the game, eventually won the day, and this will be something the team will look to harness for eighty minutes in future performances.

Stanford 3 0 0 93 38 55 2 14
Cal 1 2 0 71 87 -16 3 7
UC Davis* 1 1 0 62 24 38 2 6
Chico State* 0 2 0 10 87 -77 0 0

*Weather postponed Saturday's game, which has been reschedule for March 14.