This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Sandy • It wasn't the prettiest way to win another national championship in college rugby's Penn Mutual Varsity Cup, but the BYU Cougars weren't about to toss it back.
Leading wire-to-wire and making one final stop after a mental blunder resulted in a turnover when they thought the game was over, the Cougars held off California 30-27 at Rio Tinto Stadium to win their fourth straight national championship, and fifth overall.
"That was awesome," said BYU coach David Smyth. "It gives us a good solid platform to keep building off. I think we are at a fairly reasonable level now, so the challenge will be staying there. We have a great administration behind us, at a great school, with a lot of committed young men."
Leading by three, BYU kicked the ball into the stands when the clock hit 80:00, but the scoreboard wasn't synched up with the referee's time, and Cal got one final chance deep in BYU's territory. The Cougars held on, though, to beat the Bears for the third straight time in the Varsity Cup final.
"We kicked it out, thinking the time was up, but the referee said there was one more play," said BYU star Jonny Linehan. "That could have been a disaster. That would have been sour grapes if we [lost] there."
Instead, Cal coach Jack Clark was left to wonder what might have been after the Bears fell behind 17-3 and then mostly dominated the second half but could never take the lead.
"It is not easy to lose in a national championship final," Clark said. "It was a game we could have won. It was a game where we played a lot of the [best] rugby in the second half. So, yeah, it stings a bit."
The play of the match was made by Linehan, who booted a ball into the try zone and into the arms of Jared Whippy to give BYU a 27-15 lead in the 60th minute. Linehan also made three penalty kicks, nine points the Cougars desperately needed to remain undefeated (14-0) and establish themselves as the nation's premier rugby program.
"We have done that so many times in practice, but it comes off so rarely in the games," said Linehan, a New Zealander who will try out for BYU's football team this fall as a punter. "He called for the kick, and I guess I put it on a good spot for Jared, but credit to him for the play. It was his try. I just put it in the spot."
Seki Kofe and Josh Anderson, a former University of Utah football player, scored on tries in the first 25 minutes to stake the Cougars to a 17-3 lead, which they took into halftime.
Cal took control in the second half, scoring on tries by Paul Bosco, Michael Bush and Anthony Salaber, the latter's try getting the Bears to within three with just under five minutes remaining.
"At halftime, we said the first 10 minutes of the second half, whoever plays better will probably win the game," Linehan said. "And to their credit, they did play better. We were just lucky that we got a few trys and points and pulled it out. That made us nervous, though."
The Cougars celebrated in front of the heavily BYU crowd by doing the Haka dance, and Smyth said it took everything BYU had to emerge with the victory.
"They were tough," he said of the Bears, who dropped to 17-2. "They probably won the physical battles in some areas, but we didn't take many steps backwards. Yeah, we definitely were physical. The boys up front, they really banged it hard for us, and Jonny with his smarts [helped] and the back line, too. The two Whippy [brothers], they came on. .. And our playmakers pulled us through."
R BYU leads wire-to-wire and defeats California 30-27 to win its fourth straight national collegiate rugby championship
• The Cougars lead 17-3 at halftime and hold off several Cal rallies
• Utah Valley University downs Utah State 46-22 in the D-1AA championship match