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Duel of Fates: Cal looks to defend Axe against Stanford

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Nineteen years ago, the New England Patriots were fresh off a daring Super Bowl win against the Carolina Panthers and well on their way to a second. The Boston Red Sox would end the Curse of the Bambino to claim a World Series title, and the NHL locked their players out and canceled the season.

This is what the sports world looked like in 2004 — the last time Cal was able to pull off a three-peat against Stanford. Led by a man by the name of Aaron Rodgers, the No. 4 Bears would dominate the Cardinal 41-6, marking the third Big Game win of a five-win streak. Nineteen years later, the blue and gold are once again looking to keep the Axe in bear territory.

Stanford is coming off of a crushing loss to Oregon State, one that mathematically eliminated them from bowl consideration this season. Across the bay, Cal is off the heels of a close win against Washington State, and remains in contention to play football in December.

In their last meeting, the Bears would score three consecutive touchdowns in a comeback win over the Cardinal. It was the first time Cal was able to win on home turf since 2008 — it was also its first time retaining the Axe since the 2008 and 2009 contests.

And once again, there is no shortage of drama in this year’s edition of the Big Game. In what will be the final meeting between these storied rivals in more than 100 years of Pac-12 play, both teams are fighting to settle their fates one last time before moving the rivalry to the east.

The Cardinal is looking to find solace in a season that has largely been anticlimactic. First-year head coach and former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor has posted a 3-7 record — and two of those wins came by just three points. With bowl eligibility out of reach this season, Stanford looks to spoil the Bears hopes.

Cal sits at a precarious 4-6, having to win both of its remaining games to go bowling. Although the Bears currently hold back-to-back victories over the Cardinal, many current players have watched those wins from the sidelines. But that has not disillusioned them about the importance of this game.

The key to victory in this game has to be keeping the score under control. Cal is 2-2 in one-score games this season — in two of these games, the Bears have given up costly fourth quarter scores to bring their opponent within striking distance. In crushing losses to Oregon, Utah and Oregon State, Cal was within a score before letting it slip away.

As for Stanford, it has allowed more than 40 points scored in six of its contests this season, all within the Pac-12. The Cardinal is 1-5 in those games. The Stanford defense has allowed an average of 127.2 rushing and 313.4 passing yards this season, something the Bears are looking to take advantage of.

Comparatively, Cal has no shortage of offensive weapons on its team. Since taking the reins of the offense, Fernando Mendoza has posted 975 passing yards and 10 total touchdowns. Jaydn Ott has continued to shine, becoming the first running back since 2017 to break 1,000 rushing yards in a season this past weekend against Washington State.

“A key every week is to be efficient running the ball and avoid the negative plays … We want to do our best to have great ball security, not give the ball to the other team, especially in our territory,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox. “If we do that we think we can do some things but they have a talented defense so they’re not going to give it to us. We’re (going to) have to go out and earn it.”

For fans of football everywhere, one thing is certain: History is made and legacies are defined by the Big Game. As the sun sets on the Pac-12, fans will be treated to another celebration of the tradition and spirit of this historic rivalry.

Contact Emmanuel Macedo at