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Cal drops late-night thriller against Washington

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OCTOBER 22, 2022

Cal football has gone a long way from its glory days of the mid 2000s, back when NFL legends like Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch made the blue and gold one of the best teams in college football.

Saturday’s 28-21 loss against Washington was a reminder of that, but for moments, better days were re-lived.

The running back duo of Lynch and Justin Forsett, among other Cal sports legends, took the field to be inducted into the Cal athletics hall of fame. The alumni band performed at halftime and the Bears’ competitive play brought glimpses of the golden ages.

On paper, it didn’t seem like the game would be close. The now 6-2 Huskies had scored 32 points or more in every game this season, led by the nation’s leader in passing yards at QB: Michael Penix Jr.

“Let’s go Huskies” chants frequently drowned out the Cal faithful, and a crowd of blue and gold was interrupted by a strong contingent of Washington purple eager to watch their team secure bowl eligibility.

Cal was coming off one of its worst losses ever, dropping an ugly overtime contest to Colorado — the last winless team in FBS college football.

But Pac-12 after-dark magic seemed to come alive and Cal captured it in bursts tonight.

Beastmode brought some of his signature chaos to Berkeley — including a golf cart joy ride and cursing on live TV. Some of that energy carried over to the game, though it certainly didn’t start that way.

The Bears did, however, make it clear that they would hang around from the very beginning. Washington has scored a touchdown on their opening drive in each of their first seven games, but Cal’s defense halted that streak. Washington still opened the scoring with a 40 yard field goal, but keeping the Huskies out of the endzone was vital.

The Bears executed brilliant bend-don’t-break defense in the first half to prevent Washington from running up the score.

Penix and Washington’s offense mostly moved the ball with ease, connecting with wide open receivers on third downs to march down the field drive after drive.

But the Huskies consistently stalled out in the red zone and settled for field goals as Cal’s defense locked in. They were forced into another field goal on their second drive. And on their third, kicker Henry Peyton finally missed a kick.

It was fortunate for Cal, because on the other side of the field, its offense could get nothing going.

Missed throws, poor offensive line play and a stalled-out running game all accumulated in an ugly offensive half of football. Washington outgained Cal 113-4 in passing yards at the end of the first quarter and was dominating Cal in almost all facets of the game.

But it remained close where it mattered most: the scoreboard. What many thought could be an offensive shootout was instead a defensive slugfest in the first half, with Washington leading just 6-0 at the break.

Then, the game became a tale of two halves.

Cal started the second half with the ball and finally began to make its way down the field with a combination of mid-range passes and a run game kick-started by DeCarlos Brooks.

An impressive throw by Cal quarterback Jack Plummer back across his body after scrambling right connected with a wide open J.Michael Sturdivant, giving Cal a sudden 7-6 lead.

Unfortunately for the Bears, the awakening of their offense was timed with a defensive disappearance that allowed a Washington touchdown, courtesy of Cameron Davis — one that was followed by a two-point conversion.

But Plummer came right back with a third and seven dart back to Sturdivant, who took off 48 yards to the endzone, turning what was once a slow-paced game into a surprising shootout.

The young receiver ended the game with a career-high two touchdowns on eight receptions and 104 receiving yards. The loss was ultimately a reminder of Cal’s slow season, but Sturdivant’s performance gives hope for the future.

“He’s been getting better every single week and will be a problem for teams to match up against,” said Plummer. “He’s really quick — he’s got track speed and can go up and get the ball.”

Another one of Cal’s young stars, freshman running back Jaydn Ott, couldn’t get much going. In a game that was decided by a touchdown, it made a difference.

Still, the Bears had a chance with the game knotted at 14 to enter a crucial fourth quarter deadlocked.

After no touchdowns the entire first half, the teams combined for four touchdowns in their first four drives of the second half. But finally, the Huskies got a stop after a score in the fourth.

Penix didn’t seem to have to work hard for his touchdowns. Defensive lapses left Washington receivers wide open, with easy connections to Jalen McMillan and Richard Newton for touchdowns allowing the Huskies to build a lead.

Cal continued to fight after a clutch pass to Mavin Anderson brought the game back to within a touchdown on fourth and seven with six minutes to go.

And the Bears’ defense found rhythm once again, forcing two big stops in the final five minutes to give Cal’s offense two chances to tie the game in the dying minutes.

Cal stayed in the game with key plays, stops and penalties, holding an electric offensive team to a season low and fighting Washington to the finish.

But ultimately Cal’s offense stalled out to leave the Bears just short.

“We didn’t get it done. That’s the bottom line,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox. “The story is going to be the missed opportunities on each side of the ball.”

Cal may have instilled memories of better days today, but the end result is a reminder that the Bears are a long way away from them now. 

Benjamin Coleman covers football and men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].

OCTOBER 23, 2022