Cal Rugby: Bears Suffer Heartbreaking Loss in National Championship Match

Photo by Alex Ho/Cal Athletics

Cal rallied from 15-point deficit to take the lead, but loses to Life 29-26

Cal lost to Life University in the college rugby 15s national championship game for the second straight year, but this year's result was far different from the 2018 version.

Last year, Life humbled the Bears 60-5. This year, Cal rallied from a 22-7 second-half deficit to take a 26-22 lead before a try by Life's Conner Moonham with five minutes remaining provided Life with a 29-26 title-game victory on Saturday night at Santa Clara's Stevens Stadium'.

Cal's final chance came on a difficult, long penalty kick by Sam Walsh that would have tied the game in the 79th minute, but it was no good.

"Oh man, we had our chances, but couldn't finish off a few opportunities," said head coach Jack Clark, according to "Credit to the Life team for their performance. I am very proud of our boys. We came up a bit short in the end, but I'm so appreciative of their efforts and commitment."

Listen to postgame comments from Life coach Colton Cariaga

Life finishes its 15s season undefeated at 11-0, while the Bears wound up 18-2 after its first loss of the season to an American college team.

Cal was bidding for its 29th rugby 15s national championship and 34th national title overall, including five rugby 7s titles. Life won its fourth D1A Rugby 15s national championship.

Damon Wiley and Nic Mirhashem each scored two tries for Cal, which made a valiant comeback bid, but could not hold on.

"The game did not go our way but it very well could have," said Mirhashem. "I'm extremely proud of the boys and their commitment to one another and to this program."

Life got on the board first with a try by Duncan Van Schalkwyk, giving the Running Eagles an early 5-0 lead. The conversion attempt failed.

The teams traded attacking opportunities midway through the first half, but neither team turned the chances into points.

Cal tied the score on a Wiley try at minute 28, and a successful conversion gave the Bears a 7-5 lead.

However, Life quickly regained the lead at 10-7 on a try by Julian Roberts. Again the conversion was unsuccessful.

Cal threatened late in the first half, but a strong defensive effort by Life prevented the Bears from scoring, and the half ended with Life clinging to a 10-7 lead.

Life increased its lead to 15-7 early in the second half when it was awarded a penalty try for an infringement around a maul. The conversion was automatic and boosted Life's lead to 17-7.

Life increased the margin to 22-7 when Brian Mutanga dived in for a try, but again the conversion failed.

Cal got back into the match on a Mirhashem try, and the successful conversion reduced the Life lead to 22-14 midway through the second half.

A little later the Bears drew within one point as a yellow card to Life was followed by Mirhashem's second try of the match. Another successful kick cut Life's lead to 22-21.

Cal forged ahead soon thereafter as Wiley scored his second try of the day. Although the conversion failed, the Bears led 26-22.

However, Life regained the lead 29-26 when Mooneyham scored and the conversion was added with five minutes remaining.

The Bears were unable to come up with the winning score.

"It was a physical match and the coaches had a great pattern, a great game plan," said junior center Christian Dyer. "We just didn't execute enough."

MVP Ryan Rees of Life has some thoughts on the match:

Cal came into the finals following a dramatic 28-24 victory over Bay Area rival Saint Mary's in the semifinals last weekend. In that game, Cal scored the game-winning try in the closing seconds.


The Championship Scoring Timeline

05:00 -- Life -- Duncan Van Schalkwyk 5

28:00 -- Cal -- Damon Wiley 5, Sam Walsh 2

32:00 -- Life -- Julian Roberts 5

Halftime Score: Life 10, California 7

43:00 -- Life -- Penalty try and conversion 5, 2

52:00 -- Life -- Brian Muntanga 5

57:00 -- Cal -- Nic Mirhashem 5, Sam Walsh 2

64:00 -- Cal -- Nic Mirhashem 5, Sam Walsh 2

68:00 -- Cal -- Damon Wiley 5, Sam Walsh 2

73:00 -- Life -- Connor Mooneyham 5, Mitchell Wilson 2

Final Score: Life 29, California 26

Cal Team vs. Life

15.Lockyear, 14. Cusano, 13. Dyer, 12. Andrade, 11. Shankland (A. Roeske @ 41:00), 10. Walsh, 9. Poon, 1. Iscaro, 2. Manzo, 3. Wiley, 4. Golla, 5. Bader, 6. Severance (Spradling @ 72:00), 7. Mirhashem, 8. Casey (Heaney @ 72:00)