Cal Poly stays perfect; San Diego State narrowly escapes Santa Clara

D1A Rugby: Cal Poly stays perfect; San Diego State narrowly escapes Santa Clara

BOULDER, Colo. – No. 10 Cal Poly remained undefeated in conference play by beating UC Santa Barbara, while No. 12 San Diego State needed a late try to escape No. 19 Santa Clara this past weekend in the California Conference.

Cal Poly 27 – 3 UC Santa Barbara
In a match that was originally slated as a home game for the Mustangs, Cal Poly wound up traveling to Santa Barbara due to field issues in San Luis Obispo, Calif. The last-minute venue change did little to slow Cal Poly, as the now-2-0 squad kept the Gauchos out of the try zone during its 27-3 win.

“We were able to starve UC Santa Barbara of the ball for most of the match,” detailed Cal Poly Head Coach James Tesoriero. “They seemed to have some dangerous attacking weapons in the back line, but we pressured their set piece so much their strike players received little ball.”

On offense, the Mustangs got a huge boost from Jake Heene, who produced a hat trick in just his second start filling in for injured captain John Joe Murphy. Heene’s first two tries were truly team scores and Heene was the recipient of peeling off dominant set scrums near Santa Barbara’s try line. The third, however, was a brilliant individual display of athleticism, with Heene beating multiple defenders on his way to a 30-meter score.

“Jake was outstanding in all areas of play Saturday, easily our best player,” described Tesoriero. “With captain John Joe expected back next weekend against San Diego State, we may have to look at way of shuffling the pack to include Jake.”

The other try-scorers on the day for Cal Poly were full back Kelii Dominguez and hooker Edward McFarland.

At 2-0 and ranked inside the top-half of the Canterbury’s D1A Top 20, the Mustangs are sitting pretty at the moment. However, Cal Poly finishes conference play against highly-ranked San Diego State and Saint Mary’s, with each fixture to be played away from the Cal Poly campus.

“This weekend against San Diego State is our most important match of the season,” admitted Tesoriero. “They beat us a month ago, and our guys are still angry about the loss.”

In order to reverse its February 32-18 defeat to the Aztecs, Cal Poly will have to do a better job of limiting its opposition’s big plays.

“Three of their four tries came from long range, and I understand they have done likewise to other teams,” Tesoriero said. “The priority, therefore, is not to give them loose turnover ball, and if we do turn over ball, reactions have to be fast and effective.”

 

San Diego State 22 – 20 Santa Clara
A late try by San Diego State’s Ari Flink stole a would-be upset from Santa Clara, and moved the Aztecs above .500 in conference play.

Two tries and an Alex Pinon penalty kick built a 15-5 halftime lead for the Broncos on a wet afternoon in Santa Clara.

“Santa Clara are well-drilled and we started flat,” said San Diego State Head Coach Alex Lichtig. “Any time you face a good team and don’t show up ready to play, you’re going to find yourself in a hole.”

The Aztecs began the second half on the front foot and produced a successful penalty kick by Brett Rameil to bring the score to 15-8. The Broncos did well to further distance themselves from their conference foe when Joe McKenna carved through the San Diego State defense to increase the lead to 20-8. Unfortunately for Santa Clara, those were the final points it tallied on the day.

Aztec prop Kurtis Schmidt scored to bring the match to a one-procession game, but San Diego State had more work to do. Desperate to hold onto possession, the Aztecs kept the ball in the trusted hands of their forwards, and had success on a number of pick-and-jams. After softening the Santa Clara defense, full back Ari Fink found a gap and scored a try that would prove to be the game winner.

“We were disappointed with our start, but the guys reacted well and continued to push through some tough play to find a rhythm,” Lichtig said. “In the end, it was our forwards’ consistency and power that helped us claw our way back from the deep hole we were in.”

Elsewhere in California, Saint Mary’s gave up a second half lead and fell to Bay Area rival Cal, 27-14.