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Bears smoke trees, take home 27-15 Big Game win

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NOVEMBER 18, 2023

A Bay Area tale as old as time etched its latest chapter as Cal faced Stanford in the 126th Big Game. This game gave fans a bit of everything: exciting moments, nail biting drives and scrappy football. For the final time before this rivalry makes its way to the Atlantic Coast Conference, or ACC, Cal was able to best Stanford and retain the Axe for a third year running.

The first half got off to a sheepish start for both teams as neither was able to capitalize on scoring opportunities. Stanford would win the coin toss and defer, giving Cal quarterback Fernando Mendoza his first taste of the fabled rivalry.

“I didn’t realize how great it was to see everyone storm on the field and pick you up, and that’s truly one of the best moments of my life and I’m just so lucky to share it with my brothers,” Mendoza said.

Marching down to the Cardinal 23-yard line, the Bears’ first drive would stall out after an unsuccessful attempt to convert on fourth down. The subsequent three drives for both Cal and Stanford would end in punts — and then business began to pick up.

On their third possession of the game, the Bears’ offense began to click. With a 32-yard completion to redshirt freshman Jack Endries, Mendoza brought Cal into the red zone for the first time in the game. Redshirt sophomore Trond Grizzell followed up on the opportunity, putting an end to the Bears’ scoring dry spell with a nine-yard reception.

But the Mendoza-Grizzell connection didn’t end there — on the very next drive, Mendoza would connect on a 54-yard pass to extend the Cal lead. This marked both Mendoza and Grizzell’s longest pass completions of their budding careers.

It became quickly apparent that the Bears wanted to incorporate standout running back Jaydn Ott as a staple of their offensive game plan. By utilizing the short passing game, Ott was instrumental in marching the offense down the field.

Cal took a 14-6 lead heading into the locker room while Oski and the Stanford Tree settled their differences the old-fashioned way — with their fists.

Just as the third quarter was beginning to imitate the sedated nature that defined the first quarter, the offense once again brought life into this game. However, the Bears’ momentum would soon come to a halt.

The blue and gold were moving when Mendoza, on a scramble, would be laid out by Stanford’s Tristan Sinclair. The hit would result in a targeting penalty and Sinclair’s ejection from the game.

Ben Finley entered the game and would close out the drive for Cal. Ott would continue to do what he does best and claw his way through the defenders for another score — eclipsing 2,000 career rushing yards.

On the subsequent drive, Stanford quarterback Ashton Daniels would find Tiger Bachmeier for a massive 41-yard touchdown reception, producing its first offensive score of the game.

In a testament to his toughness and resilience, Mendoza would reenter the game and continue to command the Bear offense down the field.

“He’s a tough kid, man. He took a big big shot. He did all the tests, and Ben did a nice job going in to finish that drive with a touchdown. Fernando jogged back up, just ready to go … He’s gonna get better and better,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox.

While Stanford fans headed for the parking lot, the Cal faithful descended from the rafters — ready to storm the opposing turf. The Bears would continue to burn time and seal their third-straight win over their historic rival.

With this victory, Cal is now one win away from bowl consideration this season — a feat it has not accomplished since the 2019 season. The Bears will travel down to Los Angeles to play the final Pac-12 regular season game next Saturday night against UCLA.

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