May 7, 2016
It’s been almost exactly three years since BYU rugby team basked in one of the great moments in program history.
It was a setting that looks strikingly similar to what will happen Saturday afternoon:
Varsity Cup national championship … South Field in Provo … Cougars vs. Cal.
On May 5, 2013, the Cougars came in trying to establish they were at the same level as the powerhouse Bears.
With the game tied at 24-24 as the final seconds ticked off the clock, BYU freshman scrum half Luke Mocke shoveled the ball back to fellow freshman Jonny Linehan, who recounted his decisive move immediately after the game:
“We got out in front of the post and I thought there was nothing out wide,” Linehan said. “We’ve got to have a stab. It was a bit of improvising. I thought that 100 percent of the time in practice I’d put that through but maybe when it came down to the big moment, I’d shank it. I got enough time and was fortunate enough to put it through the posts.”
“The Dropkick” gave rise to Linehan being known as “Jonny Rugby” although now he’s a senior getting ready for his final year as a punter for the BYU football team.
Meanwhile, the 2016 Cougar rugby squad is gearing up for Saturday’s showdown against Cal at South Field, again with the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup national championship on the line (2 p.m. MDT, NBCSN).
Mocke, now a senior, still remembers the drama of 2013.
“It was a crazy game,” Mocke said. “I remember in that game, just feeling exhausted at the end but not even knowing it was the end of the game. I only realized after everyone started celebrating that we had won the game. That was clutch.”
Mocke had another reason to keep that day firmly rooted in his mind. He capped the championship by proposing to his then-girlfriend (now wife) right there on the field.
BYU head coach David Smyth said he’s going to remember that game when he takes the field with his team on Saturday.
“I’m getting old, so I remember some things well and others not so well,” Smyth said. “I’ll always remember that one. Jonny was the one who put it through, but you look at the other guys. Ryan Roundy on the day played a blinder and led from the front that day as a captain. He was the one who got it close so it could go back to Jonny. It was great — but I don’t want another one like that. I’d rather be 20 or 30 points up.”
But that was then and this is now.
The Cougars also defeated Cal in the past two Varsity Cup title matches (both of which were held at Rio Tinto Stadium) and have won four straight titles overall — but BYU knows the Bears are hungry to get back on top.
“It’s fun knowing that you have to give your all,” Cougar senior No. 8 Joe Pikula said. “You can’t take a play off or they will make you pay. It’s going to come down to hard work. We are both very talented on the ball, handling, kicking, passing, tackling. It will come down to who wants it more and who can me make the bigger play 1-on-1.”
That should make for some great drama Saturday afternoon in the finals.
“The way I would explain it is as the clash of the titans,” Mocke said. “We’ve gone up against each other for the past four years, but before that there was history, as well. It’s going to be one of those age-old rivalries and both teams are going to be putting it out on the field. They’ll bleed, we’ll bleed and it’s just going to be an intense game. It will be a fun one to come and watch.”
Smyth said the first 20-to-25 minutes of the first half will be critical, as will coming out strong to start the second half.
“Cal is a very high-octane team and are very busy about the field,” Smyth said. “They are ferocious and are constant in the pressure they try to put on you. When they are on the front foot going forward, they are a tough, tough team. They bring a level intensity to the game that few other teams do. Not only do you have to match that, you’ve got to try and dictate the terms. You’ve got to put pressure on them right away.”
The Cougars believe the key to getting their five straight championship is to stay focused on doing things their way.
“I think the key is remembering what we’ve done and sticking to our game plan,” Mocke said. “Cal and us have completely different playing styles, so I think if we can play the way how we love to play, then we are going to be good and have fun. That’s really all that you can ask. When we’re having fun, that’s when we win.”
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at (801) 344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.