In a game shown live by FloRugby on Facebook, #1-ranked Saint Mary's needed everything it had to dismiss a tenacious Cal Poly team 36-17 Saturday in the rain in Moraga, CA.
The Gaels scored right from the initial kickoff. After the forwards took it up a couple of times, the Gaels went it wide, where fullback Aaron Matthews fooled several defenders with a dummy, and then kicked through for wing Tom Wallace to chase. Wallace did exactly that, and then nudged the kick ahead into in-goal where he won to race to touch down.
Saint Mary's led 7-0, but after that Cal Poly matched Saint Mary's play for play, and put the Gaels under pressure at the breakdown. That pressure forced a misconnect at the 8-9 link at the back of the scrum and the Mustangs pounced on the turnover, shipping the ball wide to flyhalf Patrick Madden, who slid in. Alex Wormer slotted the difficult conversion from the touchline to tie it 7-7 after about 15 minutes.
It remained that way until halftime. Both teams tried to ignore the wet weather and play some adventurous rugby, and sometimes it didn't quite connect. Saint Marty's spent about 15 straight minutes inside the Cal Poly half, most of it inside the Mustangs' 22, but came away with nothing.
Cal Poly, meanwhile, matched Saint Mary's in the scrum - a rarity in college rugby.
In the second half, Saint Mary's made some personnel changes, notably moving Sean Yacoubian, who started the game at center, to scrumhalf and putting scrumhalf Tom Brusati on the wing.
With the rain returning, the Gaels slowed things down a little and kicked for territory, looking to create scoring opportunities that way. Brusati started to make an impact as a runner, bursting down the left sideline. He was pushed into touch inside the Cal Poly 22, but the ensuing lineout throw was not straight, and from the scrum that followed, Saint Mary's scored. A good shove and a couple of runs set up Vili Helu out wide, and that made for a 14-7 Saint Mary's lead.
A kick downfield set up a lineout near the Cal Poly tryline. Prop Payton Telea Ilalio pounced on a loose ball and with Yacoubian's conversion Saint Mary's led 21-7.
The kick for territory worked again. Cal Poly won its lineout, but the ball was ripped free in the ensuing maul, and flyhalf Mike McCarthy lofted a perfectly-weighted kick for Wallace to chase and score his second.
Down 26-7, Cal Poly replied immediately, pressuring off the restart, and chasing a box kick that forced a penalty. No. 8 Connor Cudeback, normally a prop, tapped quickly and was over.
Back came Saint Mary's. Yacoubian added a penalty, and then a powerful, rollicking run from lock Alec Barton set up Wallace for his third, and Yacoubian converted to make it 36-12.
Madden scored in the corner for Cal Poly to finish it up.
It wasn't the best performance by Saint Mary's, but much credit has to go to Cal Poly for challenging the Gaels, and not backing down. This could well force some changes in the D1A rankings.
Saint Mary's 36
Tries: Wallace 3, Helu, Telea-Ilalio
Convs: Yacoubian 4
Cal Poly 17
Tries: Madden 2, Cudeback