On a chilly, partly cloudy Saturday in Berkeley, the starting XV for Cal rugby made its way up the stairs of California Memorial Stadium. Walking in line single file, each player looked more than ready to continue the blue and gold’s dominating run this season. But within five minutes of the opening whistle, these Bears found themselves in unfamiliar territory: playing from behind.
The Parents Weekend game for Cal did not start according to plan. The Bears, who have always been first on the scoreboard this season, suffered an early turnover. This quick change in play worked in favor of the Bruins, who entered the game full of energy and support from their away fans. After a grueling struggle on Cal’s end of the field, the blue and white-clad Bruins were able to punch in a try to make the score 5-0 in the early going.
UCLA came into the game very motivated to compete with the dominant Bears — there were several chippy moments between the two teams throughout the match.
The Bruins sustained their momentum through the early phases of the first half, with hard hits and grinding scrums for possession. In the 11th minute, the Bears were able to respond in kind through a try from freshman center Max Threlkeld. With a successful conversion kick by senior Max Schumacher, the Bears regained the lead 7-5.
But the Bruins, looking to change the one-sided nature of this in-state rivalry, went back on the attack. A grueling UCLA drive featuring a scrum just inches from the Cal goal posts ended with a kick that brought the Bruins back the lead, 8-7.
This was the last advantage UCLA held all afternoon. As the ensuing possessions developed, the Bears began to heed their wake-up call: In the 26th minute, fifth-year flanker Nathan Zylstra banged in a try to retake the lead for good.
The still-impassioned Bruins were unable to stop a Cal attack that was spearheaded by Schumacher. By halftime, the Bears were up 24-8.
UCLA, a team that certainly passes the eye test stacked up against Cal, simply did not have an answer for the technically sound Bears. Just as the sunlight broke through the clouds to start the second half, so too did Cal.
The second half featured eight substitutions for the blue and gold; these new arrangements of players did not miss a beat. Keeping a nearly identical pace with the first-half totals, the second-half score tallied 26-5 for a final score of 50-13.
The Bears’ performance Saturday notches another win against the Bruins, their 13th straight in this matchup dating back to 2019. As the reserve teams for each kicked off another game immediately after, there was little time for celebration from the blue and gold. Every Bear remained focused in support of the rest of the team.
That same focus and drive for the Bears will continue into next week, as Cal plays its third of five consecutive home games next Saturday against Utah. As Cal’s increasingly competitive matchups draw nearer on the schedule, experiences with adversity — like in the early going against UCLA — will prove valuable for the Bears.
Cal will put its undefeated record back on the line against Utah next Saturday at Witter Rugby Field.