It was a match between two of the strongest high school rugby programs in the County. It was a match between teams with identical 3-1 records. It was a match that would give the winner an inside track to the high school final, and it was worthy of the intense rivalry between the large public high school and the private Catholic school that sit two miles apart on Del Mar Heights Road.
With the score 25-21, Torrey Pines, managed to run the final 2 minutes off the clock, with junior Blake Richards Smith taking some time but missing a tough angle penalty kick with the stadium clock reading 0:00. The crowd cheered. But, the referee’s watch, not the stadium clock, is what matters.
The match continued.
Cathedral got the ball at the 22-meter line, and kicked, picked, jammed, ran, kicked and muscled the ball downfield. Referee Graydon Orr looked like he would never blow the whistle in stoppage time, and Cathedral ground it to the 6" line, where No. 4 Richards-Smith plucked the ball off the ground, and shipped it to a teammate who kicked it into touch.
Torrey Pines looked at the ref, anticipating the end of the match. Still no whistle!
Cathedral won the line-out, and applied more pressure, with the Torrey Pines defense rising to every occasion. A desperate Dons squad scratched and clawed, and an exhausted Falcon defense kept fighting on. Finally, after 2 minutes, 3 minutes, seemingly an hour of stoppage time, Torrey Pines kicked the ball out and the whistle blew.
Wrung out fans, probably more exhausted and nervous than the players, cheered this time in relief.
“It was an unbelievable battle,” said Torrey Pines Head Coach Matty Sandoval. “We were very fortunate to win that game. Cathedral brings a lot of size and athleticism and we handled it with grit and heart.”
And, a Torrey Pines team that started slow, losing to La Costa Canyon (5-0) because of one bad 15-minute stretch of play, continued to improve with each match in the 6-game Southern California Youth Rugby High School Season. Although, the improvement was lacking in the game’s opening minutes.
Cathedral took advantage of a Torrey Pines lapse, and scored a try early, up 7-0. No. 6 Jackson Baere made a penalty kick for Torrey Pines, to make it, 7-3. But, more Torrey Pines lapses, and a blocked kick attempt out of the try zone put Cathedral up, 12-3.
A Torrey Pines line-out to Richards-Smith, a strong maul to the one-yard line, and a quick hand-off to Hooker Nick Zimmer (Jr.), made the score, 12-8 at half-time.
Cathedral added its own penalty kick after half-time to go up 15-8, before Senior Falcon Benny Ruffolo called his own number on a tap-and-go, Jackson Baere nailed the conversion to make it 15-15, Torrey Pines. But, in a five-minute stretch, Cathedral added two more penalty kicks, and took a 21-15 lead.
With 15 minutes to play, Baere (who was alternating on kicking duties with Richards-Smith), was given another go from the 25 yard line, and hit the PK with 20 yards to spare to bring Torrey Pines closer, 21-18. With 8 minutes to play, Richards-Smith scored a try and Baere hit the conversion to make the final, 25-21.
Torrey Pines (4-1) has an inside path to the Final versus LCC. But, Torrey Pines (19 points in the standings) still has to beat St. Augustine this Friday, 7 p.m. at Torrey Pines. Cathedral (3-2, but with 17 points due to bonus scoring) can slip by if Torrey Pines gets tripped-up.