Cal advanced to the college rugby national championship game in dramatic fashion on Saturday, as Sam Cusano scored the game-winning try in the final seconds to capture a 28-24 victory over Saint Mary’s in the semifinals on the Gaels home field.
The Bears (18-1) will play in the title game next Saturday in Santa Clara against Life University, which defeated Lindenwood 27-19 on Life's home field in Marietta, Ga., in the other semifinal Saturday. Last year, Cal lost to Life 60-5 in the title game.
Cal will be in the championship game for the sixth straight year, and will be seeking its 34th national crown.
Cal beat Saint Mary’s for the second time in four weeks. The Bears topped the Gaels 29-19 on March 30, but Saint Mary’s nearly turned the tables in the semifinals.
Cal had a 21-10 lead at halftime, but the Gaels scored 14 straight points to take a 24-21 lead. The Saint Mary’s try by Sean Yacoubian that put Saint Mary’s ahead came with three minutes left in the game. But the Bears responded with the game-winning try as Cusano scored in the closing seconds with both teams bone tired.
"It was always a match that was going to be won or lost by a little," said Bears head coach Jack Clark. "Credit to Saint Mary's, they are a very good side. We are pleased to have another opportunity."
In the final game-winning sequence, Cusano took a pass from center Christian Dyer, beat the Gaels' Jonathan Hackett and Chase Jones around the outside, took it to the middle and touched down with a dive to put Cal ahead.
Sam Walsh, who also scored a try and collected 13 points on the day, added the conversion as the final whistle sounded.
The Bears are ranked No. 1 in the final D1A College Rugby rankings, with Saint Mary's third.
The Scoring Timeline Cal vs. Saint Mary's
04:00 -- SMC -- Sean Yacoubian 3
21:00 -- Cal -- Jack Manzo 5, Sam Walsh 2
27:00 -- Cal -- Sam Golla 5, Sam Walsh 2
38:00 -- SMC -- Tavite Lopeti 5, Sean Yacouban 2
40:00 -- Cal -- Sam Walsh 5, 2
Halftime Score: California 21, Saint Mary's 10
58:00 -- SMC -- Ronan Murphy 5, Sean Yacoubian 2
77:00 -- SMC -- Sean Yacoubian 5, 2
80:00 -- Cal -- San Cusano 5, Sam Walsh 2
Final Score: California 28, Saint Mary's 24
The Cal participants vs. Saint Mary's
- Lockyear, 14. Cusano, 13. Dyer (A. Roeske @ 66:00), 12. Andrade (Dyer @ 66:00), 11. Shankland, 10. Walsh, 9. Poon (Kurihara @ 72:00), 1. Iscaro, 2. Manzo, 3. Wiley, 4. Murphy (Golla @ 32:00), 5. Bader (Casey @ 10:00, Bader @ 18:00), 6. Spradling (Holland @ 60:00), 7. Mirhashem, 8. Golla (Casey @ 32:00)