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Photo by Cal Athetics
Cal Football

Bears Defense, Special Teams Lead Victory Over Colorado

November 24, 2018

The Cal offense, stumbling and inept for most of the game, came alive in the fourth quarter to put together a touchdown drive to make all the scoring heroics of the other units stand up for the 33-21 victory over Colorado Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Benefitting from five turnovers, two of them interceptions returned for touchdowns on Colorado’s opening drives,  the Bears produced their fourth victory in five games and they go into next Saturday’s Big Game with a 7-4 record, 4-4 in the Pac-12.

The offensive numbers don’t look pretty. Cal had just 211 total yards, 95 net rushing, averaging 2.7 yards per carry. And they were a ghastly 1-for-17 on third downs. On the plus side, the Bears had no turnovers. “That’s kind of where we are right now,” head coach Justin Wilcox said. “It’s not always going to be pretty, but we took care of the ball. We needed to sustain some drives better. I think we all know that.”

The game started off gloriously for the Bears, who had 14 points before they had an offensive play. First Elijah Hicks and then Ashtyn Davis returned interceptions for touchdowns. Six plays in and it was 14-0.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of that,” head Wilcox said of the pair of immediate pick six plays. “The two huge plays were the difference in the game. That was pretty ovbvious. Elijah really made a great play and it was a great disguise on coverage so everybody was involved. The front, the safeties got the quarterback (Steven Montez) thinking he had one on one on the outside and Elijah played it just right. Jumped it and scored it. “I was fortunate enough to get the safety to roll over late and that gave me the opportunity to make the play,” said Hicks, who ran it back with an escort 34 yards.

Wilcox said that Davis’ pick was against a play that Colorado had “gashed us with” last year. “We call it a 2-3 dagger and Ashtyn played it just perfect.”

Davis said the difficulties with that particular route continued into this week’s preparations. “People in practive were gashing us with that play,” he said. Not this time.

The Buffaloes (5-7, 2-7), who lost their seventh straight, did not go easily.  They spotted the Bears a 21-0 lead and then seemed to be taking control in the third quarter. They had driven for a second touchdown in the period to cut the margin to six points.

Cal Athletics
Elijah Hicks, pictured above, started off the game with an interception return for six with just one minute and eleven seconds elapsed for the game clock.

That is when the Cal offense finally got going. Quarterback Chase Garbers, who was having his worst game since taking over as the unquestioned number one, finally began to find the range with his passes.

He led the Bears on a 72-yard march that started in the final moments of the third quarter. It began and ended with completions to Moe Ways. The first was with a 30-yard shot down the left sideline, The last was a 7-yarder in the end zone.

“It was awesome,” Garbers said. “Moe, since Orgeon State has been saying he is going to get me back since he dropped one in the end zone, so he got me back tonight.”

Ways, one of the seniors honored in the pregame ceremonies, scored the first TD of his college career. His father, who made the trip from Detroit for the game, gave him something of a pep talk on the field. “Before the game my dad was talking to me,” Ways said. “He said, ‘It’s about time you got in the end zone.’ “

During the drive, Garbers hit Vic Wharton III with a couple of decent gains along the way. And the Bears were given a new life when Garbers came up short of a first down on a fourth-down scramble but was belted out of bounds and the penalty set the Bear up on the Colorado 7. Garbers hit Ways on the next play.

The defense forced a punt on the next Colorado drive and when the Bears managed a couple of first downs, the visitors didn’t have enough time to mount a successful comeback.

The interceptions were just the first of three turnovers in the opening quarter. Colorado’s  Ronnie Blackmon, attempting a dancing punt return, fumbled the ball away. When the officials unpiled the players who had swarmed to the ball they found Cal’s Quentin Tartabull on the bottom at the Colorado 29. The Bears drove to the 1-yard-line where on fourth down with Colorado expecting a run, Garbers hit Patrick Laird in the corner of the end zone for 21-0.

Cal Athetics
Patrick Laird rushed for 49 yards on 18 carries to go along with three catches for six yards and a touchdown. Laird also ran for his 2000th yard for his career today.

But then the offense went dormant and Colorado got its act together. Montez moved his troops 69 yards in nine plays in the second quarter. The two biggest chunks were passes, 26 yards to Kabion Ento and 22 to Laviska Shenault. Running back Kyle Evans got the final yard up the middle and the Bears lead was trimmed to 21-7.

Cal got another break on the next sequence. The Bears couldn’t move on their next possession, but the Buffaloes fumbled the ball away again on the punt, K.D. Nixon doing the honors this time on his own 16. Cal could only get as far as the 7, and Greg Thomas hit a 24-yard field goal for 24-7

But things seemed to turn in the third quarter. Cal moved backwards on its first drive and Colorado made its way downfied 60 yards to a touchdown. Winning an exchange of punts Cal wa in position for a 33-yard Thomas field goal. But the Buffs were right back at it and when Montez hit Juwann Winfree for a 3-yard TD it was 27-21 and the crowd of 34,451 was nervous. 

The Cal offense at that point had managed just three first downs.  “It’s a pretty tough Colorado team,” Garbers said. “They’ve been successfully defensively on third downs. There were a few misses, tipped balls here and there. We’re going into the film room tomorrow and start to focus on Stanford.”


Notes: The Cal offensive line was missing senior tackle Patrick Mekari, who was on crutches on the sidelie Wilcox said he is done for the year. ...Evan Weaver with 19 tackles and Jordan Kunaszy with 14 again led the Cal defense. … Cal is assured of its first winning season sicne it finished 8-5 in 2015  … The Bears have 17 interceptions, most since they had 24 in 2009. ...Luc Bequette had his fifth sack, tops on the team. ...Despite their third down troubles, the Bears were three for three on fourth down. ..Punter Steven Coutts, who has had an excellent year, had probably his best game, averaging 46.4 yards on seven kicks, including two for more than 50 yards.

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