SALT LAKE CITY – It wasn’t easy, but the University of Utah was able to dispatch Cal Poly in the opening round of the D1A Playoffs to extend its season and set up an April 25 date with Saint Mary’s College in the Quarterfinals.
After an early Utah try, Cal Poly was about to control the remainder of the opening half and put down two tries of its own to go into the break leading 12-5.
“Cal Poly really took control of the tempo with very effective ball possession,” said Utah Director of Rugby Mark Drown. “We really did not have a good offensive rhythm in the first half, we spilled the ball and gave Cal Poly the opportunity to maintain the offensive momentum on several occasions.”
Utah, as it did in the opening half, put its stamp on the first few minutes of the second half and earned a converted try to tie the game. However, this time the Utes limited the Mustangs’ opportunities and took their second lead of the match at 19-12. Cal Poly’s playoff pedigree was apparent, as the boys from San Louis Obispo continued to put their best foot forward, eventually leading to an equalizing try from captain John Murphy.
“Cal Poly is a quality program for sure,” Drown commended. “What impressed us about them was that they battled to the end. For us, there was no feeling of ‘we got this.’ That is what you expect to see in a National Championship Playoff match.”
The substantial effort put in by the visitors was still not enough to reclaim the lead, and a pair of tries from Utah built a lead that would eventually hold at 31-26 at the final whistle.
While another top-10 season for the Mustangs is nothing to hang their heads about, Cal Poly must be disappointed not to get back to the round of eight after reaching the Quarterfinals in 2014. Still, a 3-1 California record and valiant effort on the road against a tough Utah team is a good season to build on for first-year Head Coach James Tesoriero.
“We’ve got about six or seven of our starting 15 graduating on, but the guys who are returning are very good and we’ve got some pretty good depth coming on from our second group and a good recruiting class coming in,” Tesoriero said. “So we’re expecting to be equally competitive, if not more so next year.”
The five-point Round 1 victory will send the Utes to Moraga, Calif., for their third match against the No. 2-ranked Gaels this season.
“We have great respect for Saint Mary’s,” said Drown of his upcoming opponent. “They are well coached, disciplined, have immense talent, and a well-proven system.”
Utah’s first 15s match of the season was in Moraga where Saint Mary’s jumped all over the Utes for an 81-15 win back in January. More recently, Utah exacted revenge with a 49-21 victory against a watered-down Gaels side that lacked a number of impact starters.