TENACIOUS CATS TANGLE WITH CAL
#4 CAL 36
#11 arizona 17
Charley Redknapp was a bright spot for the Wildcats, scoring his first try on debut. (Photo credits: Linda Brothers)
Feb 28- 11th-ranked Arizona started a key stretch of games on Saturday as they traveled to Berkeley to take on #4 Cal. Coming off a bye week, the well-rested Wildcats started strong and put in arguably their best performance of the season in a game that put the depth and strength of the PAC-12 on full display.
Early on it was all Arizona as the Wildcats' defensive pressure forced turnovers and created attacking opportunities. Lock James Rivers and Hooker Zach Barker, two of the three seniors in the side, set the tone early and it was the visitors who looked to be gaining the upper hand. An aggressive defensive mistake, however, would put the Bears into the Wildcats' 22, creating an attacking opportunity for the hosts that they capitalized on with a pick and go from a meter out to make it 5-0 in the tenth minute. Seeking a big response, the Wildcats upped their defensive pressure and it paid off, with Flyhalf Seb Hickey and Center Charley Redknapp combining on a tackle that popped the ball loose and into the hands of Redknapp, who scampered 50 meters for the game-tying try, the first for the Freshman from London in his debut game. The teams played back and forth for much of the rest of the half until a well-worked lineout move from Cal put them over to make it 12-5 late in the half. A Wildcats' mistake and a Cal linebreak made it 17-5 and things started to look like they were going the way of the hosts. After all, in 2022 this was a Cal team that beat Arizona soundly, and with a loud crowd and momentum going the way of the hosts, this was an important moment for a young team. It was here that the leadership of James Rivers and some patient attack got the Cats back into the game, with repeated penalties against Cal and well-worked play in the forwards giving Arizona a lineout inside the Bears' five meter line. Turning down a shot at goal, the Wildcats gambled and put it in to the corner, backing themselves on the road in hostile conditions. That decision paid off, with Arizona mauling over the Bears for a Zach Barker try which Jacob Hall converted to make it 17-12 going into the break.
"The thing with Cal is it's like the Yankees. Great history there, but a lot of teams and coaches quite frankly buy into the mystique. Nothing against Coach Clark and their program but they are college kids just like ours. If you have a game plan, stick to it, and don't get rattled, it is anyone's game. At half there wasn't much to say, some adjustments, but the boys knew not only were they in it but momentum was on our side" said Director of Rugby Sean Duffy.
That momentum would carry over into the second half, as a rejuvenated Wildcat side would bring pressure, play with pace, and string together phases of play in attack and defense. Cal would have something to say about this, with a try in the right corner making it 24-12 50 minutes in. But the Wildcats would respond, with another well-worked passage of play giving Arizona a penalty inside Cal's 22. Once again turning down the points, Arizona backed their attack and it paid off, with Jacob Hall putting Matteo Berenger through with a beautiful pass to make it 24-17 with just over twenty minutes to play. Working their way down the field, Arizona got within striking distance but it was the Cal defense that would rise up, forcing mistakes and creating attacking opportunities of their own. A linebreak and a penalty soon after created the window, with the Bears touching down to make it 31-17 with ten minutes left. While Arizona would have one more crack at closing the gap, it was the Bears who ultimately ended it, scoring in the final minutes to extend the lead to 36-17 and hand the Wildcats a loss, albeit a hard-fought one.
"Credit to Cal and thank you to them for hosting us for not one but two games. But I'm incredibly proud of our effort. This was a statement. Perhaps to those outside our circle, but moreso to those inside of it. Our athletes, our alumni, our signings, that we are here. Between our announcements off the field and the progress on it, it's clear that this is the time for this program to rise up, and to do so we need to play more games like we did on Saturday against opponents like that. This is why we do it and I know the guys are fired up for the next opportunity on Saturday" said Duffy.
Arizona will return to the Golden State for their next match before Spring Break, taking on UCLA this Saturday.
Tries: Redknapp, Barker, Berenger
Conversions: Hall- 1/2, Hickey- 0/1
3- Isaac Morrill
8- Jack Bresland
11- Antonio Gonzalez
13- Charley Redknapp
20- Charlie Green