TPHS wins Southern California Youth Rugby championship

– “And a little child shall lead them.”

Isaiah from the Good Book probably wasn’t speaking of high school freshmen. Maybe not even rugby. Regardless, the Torrey Pines High School varsity rugby club rode the strong kicking toe and head’s up play of its youngest ever player, freshman Oren Cargill, to a Southern California Youth Rugby High School Championship, 38-27 over La Costa Canyon on Feb. 25 at Mesa Community College’s football stadium.

Cargill was on the varsity roster for exactly his second game of the season and scored the Falcon’s first 17 points on two trys, two conversions and a penalty kick; finishing with 23 points for the match.

“We brought the freshman up for the playoffs,” said Head Coach Matty Sandoval of Oren Cargill. “And he truly was a difference maker. The kid’s foot is a gift. But, he’s not limited to that. He excels in every phase of the game.”

The Falcons play in the top SCYR “Red Division” for high schools where all athletes attend the same school and the program is under the direction of the athletic department. During San Diego County League Play, Torrey Pines knocked off St. Augustine, Poway, Cathedral Catholic and Del Norte, before losing, 14-13 in the final seconds to La Costa Canyon in the season finale three weekends ago. That loss sent the Falcons on the road to Manhattan Beach last week to face the No. 1 seed from Los Angeles and Orange County, Mira Costa High in the SCYR semi-finals. The “child” Cargill, up for the first time, and playing full-back, helped the Falcons to an overtime victory over Mira Costa that sent the team back home to face LCC—who defeated the No. 2 seed from LA and OC.

Because it’s a TPHS-LCC rivalry, it wasn’t going to be easy. Down, 17-0, LCC scored four unanswered trys in a span of less than 20 minutes (8 minutes at the end of the first half, and two in the first 10 minutes of the second). Trys (similar to a Touchdown) are worth 5 points. The conversion (PAT) is worth 2. LCC missed all four of theirs, while Cargill was knocking them out like a metronome.

Still, this run had LCC with all the momentum and a 20-17 lead in the second half. But, Torrey Pines managed to steal a ball out of a ruck, and spin it to No. 8 Senior Blake Richards-Smith, who off-loaded to junior Matthew Goena (formerly the flyhalf, now playing fullback on defense; outside center on offense), as the Falcons regained the lead, 24-20.

Fifteen minutes later, LCC scored in the corner to turn it around. This time, the conversion was good to put the Mavericks ahead, 27-24.

Sandoval, in his 8th year as Torrey Pines head coach (five as a club sport; the past three “on campus”), made a series of unorthodox personnel moves over the team’s final month to make up for injured, lost players, and to give his remaining guys the best match-up opportunities. Backline studs Jack Nelson (broken ankle), Anton Schuh (leg) being absent, Sandoval relied on his remaining player’s savvy and experience to have them shift from different positions during the fluid play that is a rugby match. In the final, Goena, a junior, and a solid flyhalf starter all year, moved aside for Cargill, and played outside center on Offense, but then sprinted deep to fullback (similar to strong safety in football) on defense. Cargill played fullback against Mira Costa, but then flyhalf against LCC, and on at least one occasion stepped into a scrum as the No. 9 (scrum half/quarterback). Meanwhile, regular scrummy, junior Beau Morgans handled the majority of the No. 9 duties, but moved over to outside center on defense to take up the slack for Goena—now at fullback.

With all that in their heads, the Falcon’s backline still managed to sort out the situation and, now trailing deep in the second half, came right back with a strong, disciplined drive, capped by senior Prop Tanner Wyandt’s try in the far left corner. Cargill marched the ball out a ridiculous 45 yards (plus the posts being 10 yard deep) to get the best angle for the conversion. His 55 yarder cleared the crossbar by inches to make it, 31-27.

The game was up for grabs and ripe for a sixth lead change as the clock ticked down, with Torrey Pines pinned deep in its own territory. But, the elusive Goena managed to break the LCC back-line, and then hit ridiculously fast wing Carson Ward who went 50 yards through the vaunted LCC back-line before finally being gang-tackled by the Mavericks. Goena was right there to take the ball out of the ruck and earn his second try of the night. Cargill put the ball through the posts for the final score, 38-27.

“I am very proud of our senior leadership, especially our captain, Jackson Baere. We came from behind two weeks in a row to two outstanding rugby teams,” said Sandoval. “We are fortunate and humble champions of a Southern California high school rugby culture that I think rivals any in the country.”