After his team won an unprecedented second national title in the same year, Cal rugby coach Jack Clark was understandably proud of the historic accomplishment, yet respectful of all that had come before.
The Bears beat UCLA, 31-7, on Sunday at Talen Energy Field near Philadelphia in the final of the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championships (CRC) to win the 7s crown for the fourth year in a row. This happened less than a month after they upset heavily favored BYU for the Varsity Cup for Rugby 15s.
No one has been able to pull off that double before this, and Clark had hugs and praise all around for his charges. At the same time he was careful not to slight the achievements of the many teams that preceded this one.
On the job since 1984, Clark has won 27 national titles, 23 in 15s and the last four 7s. You don't build a legacy like that by living strictly in the moment.
"It's a funny thing with teams. Every one is special," Clark said in a telephone interview from Philadelphia;on Monday. "By talking about championships, you are talking about players and people you care so much about. You don't ever want to say one is better the next. They are all special in their own way.
"This team decided they wanted to win both championships this year. After you win the 15s you can begin to think that way. I thought it might have been a little over ambitious. I am just so proud of these guys for persevering through. The amount of emotional energy it took was phenomenal and they really delivered."
Going into the 7s tournament, Clark was apprehensive about the schedule that awaited his team. The draw did the Bears no favors. The format of six four-team pools, with the pool winners and two runners up advancing to the second day's knockout round, had the Bears and Arkansas State in the same pool. The latter team, relatively new to the 7s game, is a traditional rugby power in 15s. It hasn't taken them long to catch on to the quicker version, and Clark felt the Red Wolves might have been the second or third best team in the entire tournament.
After relatively easy victories Saturday over Tennessee (41-0) and Maryland (31-0) the Bears were tested by Arkansas State in the final of pool play, finally prevailing 24-12. Less than 24 hours later they were taking on the Red Wolves again in the quarterfinals.
"There was no easy way to victory," Clark said. "We jumped out on Arkansas State in the pool game and had to hang on a little bit to win. I think we saw it coming that we were going to end up playing them again. They were going to go through as one of the two second place teams in the pools, be seeded seventh or eighth, and we would be first or second in the re-seed the second day.
"So I thought there was a good chance that we were going to play them that first game, and that was a bit unlucky. Once you beat 'em, you want 'em in your rearview mirror. You don't want to give them a second crack, and they jumped out to a 14-point lead."
But the Bears scored two tries, by Anthony Salaber and Jesse Milne, which with Russell Webb's conversions tied the score by the end of the first half. In the second period Webb scored one try himself and set up another as the Bears prevailed 24-14. Clark admits to some anxious moments in that game, which in retrospect probably clinched the tournament.
"It took a lot of nerve by our guys not to lose their heads but to just stay at it, keep believing in what they were trained to do and what our plan was," he said. "And they did it. It took a lot of nerve not to panic being down 14 points to a really good team, but to keep playing. And that's what they did."
The rest of the day involved two Pac-12 opponents. Arizona didn't put up much of a fight as the Bears took the semifinal 38-5. In the final UCLA and Cal waged a defensive struggle in the first half with Cal's Jake Goena scoring the only try in the period. Webb's conversion made it 7-0.
Cal's Jesse Milne, selected as the game MVP, scored a try two minutes into the half; one minute later Patrick Barrientes did likewise to give the Bears a 19-0 lead. The Bruins finally showed some offensive life as Seb Sharpe outran the Bear defense to finish a length-of-the-pitch sequence for a UCLA try that cut the lead to 19-7 with two minutes remaining.
But Salaber scored a try a minute later by sprinting to grab Webb's drop kickoff and run through a startled group of Bruins for a try that sealed the victory. That is the rugby equivalent of scoring on an onside kick in football.
"The game is kind of a blur. I'm just really proud of the boys who gave it 100%," said Webb who put the finishing touches on his great Cal career by converting 18-of-28 kicks following Cal tries in the tournament. "It's tough to play six games …We went to bed very early, we woke up very early, it was very, very professional. I just couldn't be happier or prouder of the boys, especially the ones leaving."
Although Webb and several other key players including Salaber, Milne, Barrientes, Nicklas Boyer and Harry Adolphus are leaving, the Bears have considerable talent coming back next year.
"We will return a good 7s team for sure, and we have a couple of guys coming in to help us," Clark said. "In 15s we lose a lot of our big men up front so we will be rebuilding a bit. But with what we've got coming back in 7s, if they can stay healthy we'll be a good team.