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Massive Result: West Point Over Cal 27-14

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Massive Result: West Point Over Cal 27-14

The scoreboard tells the story. Adam Smith photo.

Army West Point pulled off a bit of a shocker Saturday, defeating visiting Cal 27-14 at Anderson Rugby Complex.

The day began with a moving moment of silence for Stephen Dwyer, an Army Rugby alumnus who was one of those who died in the helicopter crash in November in the Mediterranean. Cal rugby presented the Army team with a commemorative wreath before the match.

Army started the game trying to exert defensive pressure and it worked, forcing the Bears into an uncharacteristic fumble in the backline. Army consolidated, got a penalty in the ruck, and fullback Jonny Haley put over an impressive 40-meter kick in the cold and mud.

Moments later another Cal penalty led to Army taking a lineout close to the Bears’ line. The West Point lineout and maul was on point and they surged right over the line. Hooker Andrew Bardak’s throw was perfect and he Dominic Tianga was the man with the ball to touch it down. Haley converted and just about 12 minutes into the game Army led 10-0.

Army was very close to scoring again thanks to a big run from Nate Gould after a bit of a kicking contest. He was dragged down but the message was sent. Cal however, did get out of that. A quick tap from scrumhalf Solomon Williams got Cal into the Army half. But the Army defense was dogged and kept making tackles. Even when Cal got a penalty the Black Knights kept working.

But it was only a matter of time and Joe Kirsten sped down the wing before flinging the ball back infield. Williams was there to support, toed the ball ahead, and chased it down to score. Kealan O’Connell added the extras to close the gap to 10-7.

That was with about 12 minutes left in the first half, and five minutes later Army responded. Wing Patrick Oglesbee snaked around the outside but was taking down around the neck. Penalty, kick to the corner, Army maul. That maul was stopped once by the Bears but Bardak Tianga kept his legs moving and when Cal’s defense slid off-center, he drove over.

Haley converted from a tough angle and Army entered halftime up 17-7.

In the second half Cal was clearly determined to regain the momentum. 

The Bears kicked it into Army territory and Kirsten chased it down, hitting Black Knights’ Haley and knocking the ball loose. Kirsten recovered it and offloaded to Max Threlkeld coming up in support. He stepped past a couple of Army defenders to run in to score Cal’s second try.

O’Connell converted and it was 17-14.

But Cal continued to get into penalty trouble and continued to struggle in cold, muddy conditions. The ball was turned over repeatedly in the rucks and that had to be frustrating for both sides.

Haley added a penalty to make it 20-14, and then midway through the second half Army put themselves 13 points ahead.

Nate Gould took a wide, end-over-end pass on the wing, popped a chip kick over the cover defense, and chased it down, diving just ahead of Williams  to score a brilliant try.

Haley converted and that was it.

Cal tried everything but could not break the Army defense. Army’s tackling was hard-hitting and accurate. Cal made it down to the Army line, but Black Knight defenders were there too quickly and forced a holding-on penalty. Another time they got to the tryline only to be forced back when Cal tried to find space out wide. 

And that was it. Army, after a 2-4-1 Rugby East record in the fall, have beaten mighty Cal. Yes it was a cross-country trip for Cal and yes it was difficult weather conditions for the Californians, but still this was a big deal for West Point.

This was also a result that put the lie, perhaps once and for all, to the idea that cold-weather teams can’t play in the fall, take a break, and then perform after that break. They can.

As for Cal? Head Coach Jack Clark was pretty clear about their issues.

“Congratulations to Army, they were the better team today,” Cal head coach Jack Clark said. “No team can win big matches with the amount of penalties and turnovers we had today. We’ll just keep working to improve our rugby.”

Army 27
Tries: Tianga 2, Gould
Convs: Haley 3
Pens: Haley 2

Cal 14
Tries: Williams, Threlkeld
Convs: O’Connell 2