Torrey Pines Rugby prevails over Cathedral in clash of unbeatens

Torrey Pines Senior Miles Ahles breaks a Cathedral tackle, while teammates AJ Talman (middle with cap) and Grant McGahey run up in support.  Don’s All-American Drew Gaffney (#8, foreground) gets ready for the take-down.  Photo/Susie Talman
Torrey Pines Senior Miles Ahles breaks a Cathedral tackle, while teammates AJ Talman (middle with cap) and Grant McGahey run up in support. Don’s All-American Drew Gaffney (#8, foreground) gets ready for the take-down. Photo/Susie Talman

By Tim Pickwell

The sporting landscape is littered with contests that never match up to the pre-game hype (think, most Super Bowls, the recent BCS National Championship, or, if you’re really old, Billie Jean King v. Bobby Riggs in 1973.  Kids: you can look that up.  Largest audience to ever see a tennis match in US.)

Saturday’s contest between two of the best and unbeaten High School Rugby sides in Southern California garnered national attention, as Washington-based Rugby Magazine posted up an on-line preview of the match between Torrey Pines (4-0) and Cathedral Catholic (4-0).  Both teams featured current or former High School All-Americans (Billy Maggs for Torrey Pines; Drew Gaffney and Aaron Mitchell for Cathedral), both teams were scoring juggernauts with stout defenses.  The winner would have the inside track for the Southern California Youth Rugby High School Division South Championship.

Add in the natural rivalry between the public and private high schools that are two miles apart on Del Mar Heights Road, and well, . . . the local Rugby community was abuzz.

But, would the game live up to the hype?

It was better.

Cathedral came out strong and used its impressive size to push Torrey Pines back up against its own try line (that’s a “goal line” in gridiron-speak).   Torrey Pines spent the next 15 minutes playing in the shadow of its own goal post as Cathedral pounded away, trying to break through.

Torrey Pines hadn’t pushed the ball past their own 40-yard line, let alone past mid-field, while Cathedral stayed in control, pressuring the Torrey Pines defense with an onslaught of strong runs for a full quarter-of-an-hour.   The Dons had controlled a match—dominated it really—but ended up with nothing to show for it.

“We fumbled the opening kickoff and Cathedral went to work. Their size and will were impressive. Fortunately, we worked on team defense all week in practice and the boys played it perfectly. We must’ve made 30 or 40 tackles in the first 15 minutes,” said Torrey Pines Head Coach Matty Sandoval. “The intensity got everyone’s heads into the game.”

Finally, Torrey Pines Center Chase Pickwell busted free for a run that got the ball past mid-field.  A Maggs pooch-kick took it to the 15-yard line.  Another Pickwell run, a hand-off to junior Flanker Jacob Neeley, a quick flip, and a few seconds later, Dean Karam was over the line with the first score.  Torrey Pines, 7-0 after an Alec Mills kick.

Neeley, an all-around talent on offense and defense, is a rookie in only his second month of Rugby.  The Torrey Pines coaches named him “Man of the Match” for his all-around play.

Cathedral continued to utilize its substantial size advantage to dominate the line-outs (throw in from out of bounds), but Torrey Pines more than held its own in the scrums. The two rookie props, Grant McGahey and Miles Ahles, proved that technique and fitness can easily offset size, even in the front row.

In the 20th minute, Torrey Pines’ speedy wing Michael Cahill finally got the ball and broke free down the sideline, pitching to Maggs who beat the Cathedral fullback for the score. Cathedral was now down 14-0 after another Mills conversion.

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