If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?
A tree did fall today, but there were 51,892 people to witness it — and it made a rumble.
After trailing most of the game, a blue and gold fourth-quarter onslaught ensured a merry and bright Cal victory for the 125th anniversary of the Big Game.
However, the opening was far from sunshine and rainbows for the Bears. The Cardinal wasted no time making their way down the field, with running back Mitch Leigber scoring a rushing touchdown and ever-so-slightly lowering the decibel of Memorial Stadium.
Cal also had no problem nearing the end zone. Actually reaching it, however, was a different story.
“We were moving it in the first half. I think everyone saw we were getting chunk plays,” said Cal quarterback Jack Plummer. “We were moving it, we weren’t going 3-and-out. But we were shooting ourselves in the foot, throwing stupid interceptions down inside the 10.”
Following the departure of the offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and offensive line coach Angus McClure on Nov. 13, fans were curious to see just what that meant for Cal football. Nothing much, apparently, as the Bears continued to struggle offensively, something that could perhaps be attributed to their questionable game plan.
Heading into the matchup, Stanford — allowing 229.2 rushing yards per game — sat at a fitting 125th place in the defensive category, seventh to last in the entirety of college football. Yet, this afternoon’s Cal offense seemed unusually adamant on utilizing Plummer’s throwing arm.
Cal kicker Dario Longhetto was the true star of the first half, opening the game with a career-long field goal of 54 yards. A couple of well-engineered play actions and fake handoffs saw the Bears on the verge of a touchdown several times. But a consistent failure to complete third downs — and a severe case of butter fingers amongst the receivers — resulted in a 4-point Stanford lead at the half. It seems that the ball does get slippery under pressure.
For the Cal fans in attendance, things were looking bleaker by the moment. Wide receiver Elijah Higgins opened the third quarter with a Stanford touchdown, extending the Cardinal lead to 11. Meanwhile, the blue and gold offense made a glacier look impatient. As the sun set on a packed Strawberry Canyon, the floodlights shone on empty Cal possession after empty Cal possession — and, ultimately, an empty Cal quarter.
Even so, one should never underestimate good fortune in sports. As the wind shifted in the fourth quarter, so did the Bears’ fate. Just when all chance of redemption had gone beyond chance and desire, two quick blue and gold touchdowns ignited the stands of Memorial Stadium.
A Monroe Young reception was the first, sparking just a glimmer of a Cal comeback. However, events reached their crescendo when a series of fumbles and recoveries triggered by Cal safety Daniel Scott culminated in not only a Cal touchdown, but also a successful two-point conversion.
“Such a surreal moment. Last year, I got down at the one and didn’t score, so it’s been on my mind for a year now,” said Young. “Being able to get in the endzone in this big of a game … such a great feeling.”
Holding their first lead of the game at 20-17, the Bears had every opportunity to put the game away on their next trip down the field, if not for a Plummer interception. A mere 3-point lead was perilous to say the least, and it was up to the blue and gold defense to keep the Bears afloat — and that’s exactly what it did.
The defensive anchor in Scott put the ball back in Cal’s hands with one and a half minutes to go. A Jaydn Ott touchdown was the cherry on top of the blue and gold comeback.
Final score: 27-20.
Stanford, it seems you’ve overstayed your welcome.