Philly Sports Live

Grin and ‘Bear’ It — Cup Sunday at the CRC 7s

CHESTER, Pa. — Life can change in an instant.  For Cal, that instant gave them life.

Led behind senior star Danny Barrett’s two tries, the California Golden Bears won their first College Rugby Championship 7s National title with a 19-14 win over Life University.  The win capped of a weekend that saw the Bears win six games in three days en route to the crown.

The final match, the culmination of a forty-six game rugby fest, was a West vs East duel; big bad Cal (enrollment 36,000), versus Life (enrollment 2,700) for the Cup.  Two teams asked for 14 more minutes of toughness in their final game of the weekend.  These two teams were familiar with each other, with Cal beating Life in the third-place game last year.  Despite being known for just rugby and chiropractics, the Running Eagles posed a large threat to the Golden Bear’s title claim.

Life started off tentatively, and gave up possession in their own 22 on a knock on. Cal looked fresh, and Barrett would make them pay running around side to open the scoring with a try.  Life’s talisman Joe Cowley then broke free up the right side, but the Golden Bears backs were able to contain him and prevent him from responding.  The Running Eagles could not find a crack in the Cal defense early on, and Cal pressure would lead to a counterattack and another Barrett try.  Russell Webb’s convert gave Cal a 14-0 lead that looked pretty stout.  The second half started with the Life front-rowers trying to bottle up the Cal backs, as Barrett and Jake Anderson were contained in the opening of the second half.  But they couldn’t contain “Famous” Seamus Kelly, who penetrated up the left wing to extend the lead to 19-0.

But Life got where they were on heart and talent, and they weren’t about to let themselves, or the 800 lime-green clad fans that traveled all the way from Marietta .  Joe Cowley, the team’s MVP, threw a desperation pass to Colton Carriaga who ran in from 15 meters out to get the Eagles on the board and cut the lead.  Cowley then got a pass from Cam Dolan and scored, and added the convert to make it 19-14 with a minute.  But that’s where the rally would end.  As the try was scored outside of a minute left, the clock kept running.  Had they scored under a minute, the clock would have stopped.  Instead, Cal kicked the ball out of play off the kick to end the game, and that was it.

“If there was going to be a big score, we knew it was going to be against us, so getting off to a good start and getting a couple of tries on the board,” said Cal coach Jack Clark.  “After that third try, I thought we’d be pretty good.”

Clark had a lot of respect for his opponents, and empathized with the situation at the end of game where the clock didn’t stop. “They scored that final try with 1:02 left; if they had scored under a minute, the clock would’ve stopped and that would’ve changed the game.  They played through about 40 seconds before they got the kick.

“I’m very proud.  These are very difficult tournaments to win.  There’s not enough time in 14 minutes to climb out of a hole.”

Cal was not the favorite of the fans, however.  Saturday’s 55-0 rout of Temple saw the crowd on hand boo the Bears for running up the score, and the game against a perceived underdog made things worse.  But Barrett and his team weren’t fazed.  “We kinda just took it in stride.  We have the big aura as Cal; we kinda had to stick our chest out and just do it.

Barrett, who scored seven tries on the day, gave much of the credit to his teammates.  “The guys put me in position to score some tries. It wasn’t really me, I was just the lucky guy who got to jog in a couple of times.  Much credit to these guys.

“It’s a long tournament,” the 6’3″ 220 lb. senior reflected.  “We watched [Life] play during the tournament, and it’s all about how they play on the day and not on the year.”

As the accolades went to the victors, the Runners-up reflected on the near miss.  For Cowley, who is heading to Houston to take part in the USA Rugby’s camp in Houston in preparation for their match against Ireland, it was an opportunity missed.

“We just came out flat,” Cowley said. “We were slow in defense, not really looking up and at the rucks.  You do that, and a team like Cal’s caliber is gonna beat you.  We did have a nice little comeback at the end, we picked it up after halftime and the defense was much crisper.  We spread them a little bit better, but in the end the ball didn’t bounce our way and we ended up with a 5 point loss.”

“They (Cal) brought it all weekend, and right through the knockout round, so congratulations to them.”

For Cowley, Barrett, and the seniors, their rugby futures are up in the air.  Barrett stated that he was going to coach his high school club and keep an ear out in the hopes of making the National team, and possibly the Olympics in 2016.  Cowley’s camp experience may also lead to a chance with the 15’s squad, something that many of the sevens players also play.

The final wrapped up a long day of rugby under a breezy, mostly cloudy day in Chester.  It included local triumphs, big upsets, and one of the greatest plays that Rugby 7s — nationally or otherwise — had ever seen.  Here were some highlights.

Rain clouds visited briefly, but that didn't deter the crowd at the CRC 7's in Chester, Pa  on June 2nd, 2013 (Photo: Brian Barrish)

Rain clouds visited briefly, but that didn’t deter the crowd at the CRC 7’s in Chester, Pa on June 2nd, 2013 (Photo: Brian Barrish)



The first quarterfinal pit California and Arizona, two former finalists, and favorites for the cup final coming in.  The two teams traded tries in the first half, before Seamus Kelly put the Golden Bears up 14-7.  Arizona’s Shane Carter then broke loose up the right flank for a great try, but the conversion was missed to keep Cal ahead 14-12 at the break.  The second half saw Cal pounce on the Wildcats forwards, with Danny Barrett scoring his second try and Jake Anderson adding the coup de-gras in a 26-12 win.

Cal then awaited the winner of the second quarterfinal between two-time defending champs Dartmouth and CRC7s debutante UCLA.  The champs took hold of the game by the throat, scoring two early tries.  The Bruins would cut the score to 12-5, and would surge forward trying to tie the score on Seb Sharp’s effort.  But they would be thwarted by the Big Green’s Kevin Clark and Patrick Flynn, and on the counter attack Flynn found Clark for the try to put Dartmouth up 17-5.  The second half produced many back and forth passages of play, some chaotic.  Out of the chaos, Martial Chaput picked off a Dartmouth pass inside the 22-meter line and went in to cut the deficit to five points.  And then, in a scene reminiscent of the Cal-Stanford football miracle in 1982, the Bruins would get possession at midfield, keep the ball alive with about 30 passes, one of which was a between the legs pass from Grant Penney and then get the tying score when Ben Francis grounded the final pass.  Tyler Pritchard then made a tricky conversion to give UCLA the 19-17 win in the biggest upset of the day.

The third quarterfinal pitted Life against Kutztown, two outside contenders.  Kutztown had impressed many with their tough play in pool play, but they couldn’t contain Life’s Joe Cowley, as he scored all three tries in the first half to pace the Running Eagles to a 19-5 lead.  The teams would trade tries to start the second half before Tim Acker would score give the Golden Bears a fighting shot and make it 24-17.  But Life asserted their dominance to get one more try in a 31-17 win to advance to their second straight semi-final appearance.

Life would go on to play the winner of the Penn State-Navy match.  Penn State showed gritty low-scoring determination in tehir matches, and would grind out the first try of the match with Blaze Feury (the tournament’s best name) getting in.  Navy’s Jack McAuliffe would answer back, however, with a scamper up the left side to tie the match.  Navy would take the lead when a cornered Ron Helms found a streaking Nick Hancock to give the Goats the 12-5 lead.  McAuliffe would get free for his second try midway through the second half to extend the Midshipmen lead to ten.  The Lions would keep possession and pin Navy back, however, and eventaully closed the gap with a Janssen Defalco try.  But with PSU pushing, Navy was able to capitalize on possession and McAuliffe was able to complete his hat trick.  Penn State wasn’t done, as Ben Janssen would score with 6 seconds left to cut it to five points, but time would run out and Navy would cling to the 22-17 victory.


An all-California and Pac-12 matchup was up first, as powerful Cal took on the Cinderella Bruins of UCLA.  The Bruins would try and ride momentum against a Bears team that had dominated their opponents all day.  UCLA began the game patiently, and that patience paid off when Seb Sharpe broke down the middle of the field and kicked the ball into space for Race Noeldner to run on for the opening score.  After that, however, it would be the Danny Barrett show, as he scored two tries in succession to gain a 12-7 lead.  The big back would complete his hat trick early in the second to extend the lead.  Sharpe would score for the Bruins to cut the lead, but Russell Webb would answer quickly for Cal, as Russell Webb scissor kicked a loose ball for the spectacular try to salt the game away.  James Anderson added the cherry on the cake, leaping a tackler to give the Golden Bears the 33-21 win and their first Final berth since 2010.

Game two featured Life and Navy.  Joe Cowley continued his scoring ways  from the quarterfinals, running 30 meters and then chipping the ball over the defender for him to run on and take the early lead.   They then pinned Navy’s big threat Jack McAuliffe back before adding a tries by Colton Carriaga and Jake Anderson to take a 17-0 lead at the break.  It was all Life University in the second, with Cowley, Calvin Nell and Gerson Blaise adding to the win.  Life would post a 36-7 final score line, into the final on their third try at the CRC7s.

Notre Dame (Green) and St. Joseph's (White) face off in a scrum during the CRC 7's at PPL Park (Photo: Brian Barrish)

Notre Dame (Green) and St. Joseph’s (White) face off in a scrum during the CRC 7’s on June 2, 2013 at PPL Park (Photo: Brian Barrish)



— Delaware, after just missing the Cup quarterfinals, beat Wisconsin 19-15, in the Plate (9th Place) semifinal behind Jimmy Kowalski’s two tries.   They then faced a stiff test from Notre Dame, but Glenn Thommes two tries, including one after time had expired, gave the Blue Hens the Plate and a 12-10 victory.

— Northeastern University turned back NC State 36-21, and upstart Virginia Tech 17-12 to take home the the Bowl (13th Place)

— While the Philadelphia teams didn’t fair well in the pool competition, they did manage to take home some hardware.  Penn met Temple in the Shield Final (17th place), after they defeated Texas and the Owls defeated Villanova to end their 11-game CRC 7’s losing streak.  But it would be the Quakers, behind Christian Collin’s try at the siren, who would take home a 15-12 win, and the Shield.

— The Women’s final saw Penn State defeating Ohio State 31-5, clinching the Lady Lions’ first CRC title.  Meya Bizer led PSU’s attack and added a try at the end of the game.


Four other competitions took place over the weekend, all with finals at PPL Park:

– Los Angeles’s Occidental College won the National Small College Final, dispatching of Simpson College (IA) 29-0 in the semis, and North Florida 28-15 in the NSCRO 7s Cup final.

– Army got two second half tries to defeat Navy, 12-5 in the US Armed Forces Memorial Cup Final.  This was the first edition of the tournament between the military sides, which included Coast Guard, the Marine Corps, and the Air Force.

– The Boy’s High School Challenge was taken out by Union High School (Tulsa, OK), defeating Pride Rugby (DC) 12-10.  Pride had a chance to tie with a list minute try, but missed the conversion.

– Divine Savior (Milwaukee) shut out Fallbrook (San Diego) 41-0 to take home the Girls High School Challenge.  Beth Pakorny and Catherine Trowbridge scored multiple tries to pace the Dashers over heavily favored Fallbrook, who had some of their starters out with injuries.