#1 Saint Mary’s Defeats #19 Cal Poly 94-7 | By: Christian Portillo
Photo taken by: Mike Geib
MORAGA, CALIF. - Days after being anointed the new #1 side on the Canterbury D1A Top 20 rankings because of a quality win over #4 BYU, the Saint Mary’s Gaels took on the #19 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs on what was expected to be a rainy Saturday at Saint Mary’s Stadium. The match was originally supposed to be played in San Luis Obispo, but due to unplayable field conditions, it was moved to Moraga. Contrary to the local weatherman’s report, it actually turned out to be a great day for rugby with optimal field conditions.
The new #1 side went to work with their hardhats (or scrumcaps, if you will) on as usual, playing great defense throughout the match and holding Cal Poly scoreless for 68 minutes. Although Vili Helu, Chris McDonell, and Dylan Audsley all sat this one out to rest, the “next man up” mentality worked well for the Gaels. The Gaels’ offense did not skip a beat as they cruised to 42 first half points and put up 52 more in the second half.
It all started with a Cal Poly Mustang knock-on that occurred just after Mike McCarthy kicked the game off. Saint Mary’s was awarded a scrum, in which scrum-half Holden Yungert patiently waited before picking the ball up and going northeast before assisting Jack Carso for the game’s initial try. McCarthy, kicking in place of Audsley, made the close conversion to give the Gaels a 7-0 lead. This easy conversion was the start of a great match for McCarthy, who ended up making 12 of 14 conversion attempts in addition to a try for a total of 29 points. Not to go unnoticed was the 5’9” fly-half’s big hits and solid takedowns. The senior’s fingerprints were all over this match from the get-go.
Sophomore Aaron Matthews almost took it all the way before he got stopped just short of the try line. However, the speedy Tommy Wallace was right there with him and took the ball from the ruck into the middle of the try zone for his first of three tries on the afternoon.
Having already hit two conversions to start the game off, Mike McCarthy wanted a try of his own and got it when he caught the ball in the middle of traffic and cut inside for five points. He finished the play off by converting his own try to give Saint Mary’s a 21-0 lead less than 12 minutes into the match.
After a strong drive by flanker Alec Barton, loose-head prop Payton Telea finished the play on the right side by simply taking it in strongly. The freshman from San Francisco has impressed all season long and today was no different. McCarthy continued his strong kicking game by nailing his fourth consecutive conversion on the day to give Saint Mary’s a 28-0 lead.
With just under nineteen minutes remaining in the first half, Saint Mary’s did one of those defining Gael Rugby plays that just take your breath away and make you say, “Wow, that is how rugby should be played.” It all started with Holden Yungert, who set the play up by breaking free from his defender and passing the ball. Several Gaels touched the ball and unselfishly passed the ball out wide, where it ended up in Aaron Matthews’ hands before he passed it to tight-head prop Henry Hall for the try. It was an amazing play made possible because of the players’ willingness to pass, be in the right spots at the right moments, and was beautifully capped off by McCarthy’s conversion from the far left side.
The Mustangs defeated Santa Clara on the road with a total team effort last Saturday by a score of 50-19 in which seven different ruggers scored. Although this win propelled them into the Top 20, it must have taken a lot out of them as they looked tired while Saint Mary’s was starting to warm up. The Mustangs’ offense looked stagnant as players were flat-footed and the ball was just being swung from side to side with no forward progress at all. They could not break the Gaels’ impenetrable wall that was their defense. The Mustangs could not capitalize near the try line and simply looked worn down. This was evident as they could not bring down Payton Telea, who just kept scrapping and out-hustling the Mustangs for more yardage. Cal Poly made a curious decision to not go for points when awarded a penalty kick. If they had elected to go for points, it is reasonable to assume that they would have gotten on the board and gained some confidence. Instead, they wanted to score a try and ended up turning it over because of Mike McCarthy’s nice recovery.
Moments later, Mike Wallace read a telegraphed Cal Poly pass and took the interception down the middle for his first of three tries on the afternoon. McCarthy’s sixth and final conversion of the first half went up the goalposts to put the score at 42-0 before halftime.
Cal Poly proceeded to show glimpses of why they are a top-20 team in the country with flashes of good runs and passing. However, the Gaels also know how to tackle with the best of them and made sure the Mustangs weren’t set free to run wherever they pleased. Saint Mary’s stopped Cal Poly past the 22-metre line and somehow managed to push the line back. The possession ended with Aaron Matthews stealing the ball and passing it to Charlie Loudon, who couldn’t catch it cleanly and ended up knocking it on to get halftime underway.
Tommy Wallace started the second half off strong by scoring a try in the left corner after a Charlie Loudon assist. McCarthy, who was six of six on conversions in the first half, missed this one and the score remained 47-0.
Although he may have missed the far conversion, his chip kicks were still on point and he perfectly placed one on the left side of the field for an easy catch and try for Mike Wallace, his second of the day. After a perfect first half, McCarthy missed his second straight conversion. But Cal Poly couldn’t cleanly catch his next chip kick and it bounced into Tommy Wallace’s hands, who was chasing it down and ultimately took it to the house for his third and final try of the match, giving him a hat trick. McCarthy wasn’t going to miss three conversions in a row after a perfect first half and nailed this one to extend the Gaels’ lead to 59-0.
Charlie Loudon, who had an assist to begin the second half, scored a converted try of his own four minutes after Tommy Wallace’s last try. Tommy’s cousin Mike Wallace then took the ball from deep in the Gaels’ own territory to score his third try of the game, giving both the cousins a hat trick for a total of 30 points between them. McCarthy’s ninth conversion of the match made the score 73-0, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing from there on out. Mike Wallace had another nice run, but it ended up with a knock-on. Marcus Viscardi was then given a yellow card for a blatant elbow on the back of a Cal Poly rugger and had to sit out for ten minutes. Alec Barton, who hails from classy San Diego, made up for these mistakes by scoring a thunderous try down the middle. McCarthy’s 10th conversion gave the Gaels an 80-0 lead.
Even down by 80, Cal Poly still gave a good effort and had a string of nice scrums and defensive try line stops. With 11:43 remaining, they were rewarded for their continuous efforts with a penalty try. Corey MacGrillen nailed the conversion to put seven points on the board for Cal Poly. Payton Telea was also given a yellow card and had to sit out ten minutes for the Gaels.
Reserve Alejandro Duran, who started for the B-Side right after the A-Side match, got the ball with just under seven minutes remaining in the game, lowered his shoulders, found a gap, and had a clear path all the way down the field for a try. As McCarthy hit yet another conversion to bring the score to 87-7, Marcus Viscardi was allowed to return onto the field for the Gaels.
Ronan Murphy, a freshman reserve from San Francisco, had a breakthrough run and assisted Ethan Waller, who is just getting his stride back after returning from injury, for the last try of the match. Mike McCarthy made his twelfth and final conversion of the match to bring to the final score to 94-7. In addition to the A-Side winning 94-7, the B-Side won by a similar score of 84-7 while the C-Side also held the Mustangs to 7 points, winning 46-7 on Pat Vincent field.
Saint Mary’s hasn’t been ranked #1 since they lost to Life University in last year’s National Championship. They have remained at #3 all year until last week’s win over BYU. The Gaels looked worthy of their new #1 ranking with the 94-7 win over #19 Cal Poly. Tommy and Mike Wallace both had hat tricks while Mike McCarthy scored a total of 29 points via a try and going 12/14 on conversion attempts. The 59 points between the three starters was 63% of the Gaels’ total offense, and they needed every bit of it with Audsley, Helu, and McDonell all resting.
Cal Poly gets next week off before facing UC Santa Barbara on the road on March 11th at 1:00 P.M.
Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s plays their final home game of the season next Saturday, March 4th, against #11 San Diego State at 1:00 P.M. at Saint Mary’s Stadium. It is the last home game before the Gaels embark on a three-game road trip against BYU, Cal Berkeley, and Sacramento State. After the Sacramento State match, the Gaels will go on the annual Spring Tour to visit Ireland and Scotland to bond as a team, learn from some of the best coaches in the world, prepare for the D1A playoffs, visit some historical landmarks, and to have fun.