Gaels Achieve Astounding Win over Cal in Quarter-finals. Now It’s onto a Semi-final Match-Up Against the BYU Cougars.

Men’s Rugby defeated rival UC Berkeley in the quarter-finals by a resounding 34–16. Saint Mary’s hosts the Cougars in Moraga on April 20. And SMC’s Dominic Besag is a finalist for top collegiate rugby player in the country.

by Aidan Payne-Kraus ’25 | April 14, 2024

The juggernaut that is Saint Mary’s Men’s Rugby continues the charge through the Division 1A playoffs. In a critical quarter-final match-up on April 13 at Saint Mary’s Stadium that pitted the Gaels against Bay Area rival UC Berkeley to determine who would advance in the College Rugby Association of America’s premiere division, SMC won a resounding 34–16 victory. 

That follows on a regular season win by the Gaels over the Golden Bears in March. And it means Saint Mary’s advances to the semi-finals, hosting the BYU Cougars in Moraga on April 20.

Men's Rugby scrum against UC Berkeley Golden Bears at Saint Mary's Stadium on April 13, 2024

With continued wit and tenacity on Saturday, the Gaels came out firing. The defense denied multiple attacks by the Golden Bears within their half while down a man. Saint Mary’s then paraded their strength and endurance on the pitch, and in a matter of a few phases, the Gaels were within Berkeley’s 22-meter mark. With the win off the threatening SMC scrum, King Matu ’24 took the ball off the weak side and muscled through the defense to put the first points up on the scoreboard. 

But Cal quickly found a way to put points on the board as well. Immediately following the kickoff, the Golden Bears were awarded a penalty and elected to kick for points, bringing them within 2 points, with SMC up 5–3 early in the first half. 

The Gaels continued to apply exhausting pressure. Isoefa Toia'ivao ’26 used his speed and finesse to return the ball to Bear territory. The Gaels were awarded a penalty that was in direct line, opening the door for an effortless kick by Mario Storti ’25 that put the Gaels up by five. 

Men's Rugby
Angling in: Dominic Besag ’26 edges out a Cal defender for extra yards. He is a finalist for the 2023–24 Rudy Scholz Award, recognizing the nation’s top collegiate rugby player. / Photo by Rebecca Harper

In the final minutes of the first half, the game play from both sides showed how critical athleticism is in collegiate rugby. SMC broke through the line of defense with Inoke Waqavesi ’23, MA ’24 putting a chip kick over the top of Cal’s backline, while Dominic Besag ’26 dashed past the defense line to widen the gap on the scoreboard. Storti followed with the successful conversion, putting the Gaels up 15–3. 

With Cal kicking for points off a penalty but then fumbling the ball in a turnover, a patient Saint Mary’s squad brought to bear a relentless attack to the try line as the final seconds of the first half counted down. Isoefa Toia'ivao ‘26 twisted and twirled into space to bully his way into the corner for a try. 

Men's Rugby
Leaping for yards: Erich Storti ’23, MA ’24 clears Cal defenders to avoid a tackle.  / Photo By Rebecca Harper

The second half continued the quick play on the field. The Gaels’ Erich Storti ‘23, MA ‘24 found Team Captain Kaipono Kayoshi ’23, MA ’24 with a skip pass as he sliced through the Golden Bears’ defensive line from about ten meters out for a try. Storti followed with the successful conversion. 

Men's Rugby
Slice and dice: Captain Kaipono Kayoshi ’23, MA ’24 slices through the defense to earn points for the Gaels.  / Photo By Rebecca Harper

In the last 15 minutes of play, Cal’s attack became more frantic, as they grappled with the unfamiliar feeling of being down 21 points to the Gaels. The Bears’ pressure on the Gaels' defense closed up the point differential. However, SMC continued to show strength. Erich Storti went for a clearance kick that was blocked but was picked up by Mario Storti. That led to one of the most beautifully executed trys of the year from the Gaels, with three passes and no phases to get down the field and finished by Sosaia Pongi ’26. A conversion by Mario Storti brought the score to 34–16 Gaels. 

Men's Rugby
Grab and pass: Scrumhalf Hunter Modlin ’24 secures the ball from his teammate while the Geals push forward on offense.  / Photo By Rebecca Harper

A few mistakes from the Gaels allowed the Bears to find the try line, but it was far from enough to threaten a comeback. On a day marked by tremendous defense by the Gaels’ forward pack and plenty of poised attacking play, the Gaels advanced in dominating fashion, with a final score 34–16.

  • SMC Trys: King Matu, Dom Besag, Iosefa Toia'ivao, Kaipono Kayoshi, Sosaia Pongi
  • SMC Conversions: Mario Storti (3)
  • SMC Penalty Goals: Mario Storti (1)

Up Next: Gaels in Semi-final Match Against BYU Cougars

On Saturday, April 20, the Gaels host BYU in Moraga for the semi-finals, after BYU defeated Central Washington on April 13. The semi-finals match begins at 11:30 a.m. The victor of the semi-finals match will head to the National Championship game in Houston on May 4.

Dominic Besag One of Four Finalists for Rudy Scholz Award

Gaels standout Dominic Besag has been named one of four finalists for the Rudy Scholz Award, which recognizes the top collegiate rugby player in the United States. The Goff Rugby Report spotlighted Besag’s four tries against Cal in March 2024 as likely cementing his pick as a finalist.

Along with his play with Saint Mary’s, in summer 2023 Besag was tapped to captain the USA Under 20 Men’s Rugby team after an excellent showing against Canada. But within weeks Besag had another role to play: He was asked to join the senior USA Team for an international match in Romania. The Goff Rugby Report assesses that he is likely only the fourth player under 20 years old to earn a cap representing the US national team in international competition.

Eighteen players were nominated for the Rudy Scholz Award this year, including Gaels teammate Eric Storti. The winner receives the trophy at a gala event June 8, 2024, hosted by the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle, Washington. The award has been presented since 2016, when the first winner was Saint Mary’s Dylan Audsley ’17. The Gaels’ Peyton Telea Ilalio ’20 won the award in 2020—making Saint Mary’s one of only two teams to have twice won the award. The other is the US Naval Academy. 

Story updated April 16 at 2:30 p.m. Pacific.