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Cal Football

Bears Fall 10-7 to TCU in Defensive Battle

December 26, 2018
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CHASE FIELD/PHOENIX, ARIZONA -There's an old football axiom that defense wins games. The Bears' defense did it's part in spades but a downright offensive Cal offense cost the Bears the chance for a much-needed win, as Cal fell 10-7 in overtime to TCU in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl.

“Obviously, we're disappointed in the outcome of the game,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox. “We just made too many mistakes during the game to win against a quality opponent like that.

“More than anything, I'm just really proud of our players and their toughness and their perseverance and through some adverse times and we had it today. And we as coaches, starting with me, have to give our guys answers in the off-season. But I've really just been honored to play with the group of seniors that have played their last day today, and I wish we could have had a better outcome for them. It's pretty obvious, I think, when you look at the way the game went, that the interceptions and the turnovers were the difference. And we had our chances a couple times on defense late to get a stop. And they ran the ball a little bit better towards the end, and were able to kick a field goal to win it.

“It is a good program that we played. We had our chances. We just made too many mistakes.”

TCU head coach Gary Patterson gave credit to the way the Bears battled all night.

“I want to give a lot of credit to the Cal Bears,” said Patterson. “Really, they did a great job. Their defense played very well tonight, too. So you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for what they did and how they did it.

“Both teams lost some guys tonight, people going out. Their running back went out, their quarterback goes out. Everybody. it's one of those games where you just end up -- who ends up surviving at the end of the year. It wasn't just a battle with both of us; it's just been a whole season that we've survived. So I can promise you this: I am glad that it's over. I'm glad it's not the playoffs and we have to play another game. I can tell you that.”

The fourth quarter ended with the score  deadlocked at 7 after TCU kicker Cole Bunce missed a 44-yard field goal attempt wide left to send the game into overtime. However, after backup QB Chase Forrest was intercepted on the Bears’ overtime series, Jonathon Song, the Frogs’ other kicker, converted the game-winner from 27 yards. 

QB Chase Garbers had a forgettable first half, going 12-for-19 for just 93 yards and three interceptions and was replaced by fifth year senior Forrest, who struggled just as much, finishing 5-for-14 for just 71 yards and two more INTs.

Two of the nation’s top defenses heading into the game certainly lived up to their billing,  with both teams playing tough D and generating a total of nine interceptions for the game. 

Somewhere in the midst of both teams’ first half futility, the Bears were able to put some points in the board, taking advantage of the first of safety Jaylinn Hawkins’ two interceptions, taking only two plays to go 34 yards. 

Putting the Bears in position for a quick score, receiver Kanawai Noa -back from nearly two months off with a shoulder injury- hauled in a 30-yard reception from Garbers at the Horned Frogs’ 4. Garbers took it in for a keeper on the next play as the Bears took a 7-0 lead after the Greg Thomas PAT with 4:25 left in the first quarter.

The Bears’ third INT of the half came with senior linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk showcasing his NFL-level skills, swooping in for the grab midfield with 13:09 left in the half.

Matching TCU QB Grayson Muehlstein INT for INT, Garbers ended the half with three interceptions himself, looking out of sorts all half. Garbers was also sacked four times, with three of them being coverage sacks with Bear receivers struggling to get open.

Muehlstein picked up where he left off in the first half, tossing yet another interception to Hawkins, who took over the lead with his fifth interception of the season.

Unable to generate much offense on the ground or through the air, TCU finally picked up a big play on special teams, with TCU returner Jalen Reagor picking up 58 yards off a Steven Coutts punt, returning it to the Cal 33 after almost taking it all the way with 4:02 left in the third quarter.

The Horned Frogs were able to take advantage of the good field position, with running back Sewo Olonilua carrying the Cal defense six or seven yards to the half yard line before narrowly crossing the plane on the next play to even the game at 7 at the end of the third quarter.

A scoreless fourth quarter sent the game into overtime in what looked like would be a last second Cal loss before Bunce’s miss gave the Bears new life in overtime.

For the game, frosh running back Chris Brown led the Bears with 57 yards on 14 carries. Noa led the Bears in receiving with his two early catches, finishing with two receptions for 43 yards. Linebacker Kunaszyk led the Bears in tackles with 14 in his final career game at Cal. As usual, he was joined by junior Evan Weaver, who also tallied 14.

Hawkins set a bowl record for interceptions with three and had the rare distinction of being named Defensive MVP, despite being on the losing team.

When asked if he did anything special to garner all his interceptions, the junior safety credited his team.

“Oh, no, no, it was just my defense, man, just the front seven,” said Hawkins. “It's just the communication, everybody communicating, everybody being on point. That's when big plays come, when everybody's doing their job and everybody's playing for each other.

“We're a family, so whoever gets a pick -- JK [Jordan Kunaszyk] got a pick, too. We all contribute to that, and we all play hard together. And, you know, we're family.”

TCU running back Sewo Olonilua was the hero of the game for the Horned Frogs, totalling 194 on 32 rushes along with his touchdown run.

The Bears played the second half without captain Patrick Laird, who sustained what appeared to be a shoulder injury in the first half. 

Where does that leave the now 7-6 Bears heading into the offseason?

“We do an in-depth analysis on ourselves at every level, every position, everything we're doing, the way we're coaching, teaching, the schematics that we're using, the communication lines, all those things,” said Wilcox. “What do we need to do to improve at every single level of our program? And that's my job to help facilitate that. And so I know we have some great people on our program. We have to improve.

“There's areas that we obviously have to get better. And so that will be -starting tonight. And there will be a deep dive, and we'll discuss it as a group in January for many, many hours.”

Whether or not that evaluation will involve offensive coaching changes remains to be seen.

Wilcox was also asked about the QB struggles with Garbers and the decision to bench Garbers and play -and stick with- a struggling Forrest.

“Just some decision-making,” said Wilcox about what led to the QB miscues. “We’ve got to protect the ball better. It's just obvious. I think we all know that. And, you know, love those guys, and we’ve got to help them as coaches. We’ve got to help them at other positions. Everybody's got to be part of it, but we gotta take better care of the ball. They know it, and it's our job to help push this thing forward. And it starts with me.”

Senior linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk finished his stellar career at Cal after arriving as a JC soph tranfer with 147 tackles for the season, displaying consistent leadership on and off the field for the program.

Kunaszyk ended the press conference in the classy way he always conducts himself with the program with a final statement to the media:

“I just want to say something real quick to all the media, to all my coaches, to my teammates, to the donors, to the alumni, really to everybody, to our AD, Mr. [Jim] Knowlton,” said Kunaszyk. “I'm just very grateful for all that you guys have done for me. It's been my greatest pleasure being a Cal Bear and representing this university.

“I love this program. It's definitely heading in the right direction. I promise that with the leadership we have. And I am a proud alumni, and I'll forever be a Cal Bear. So thank you, guys, from the bottom of my heart. I'm very grateful for everything you guys have done for me.”

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Final minutes regulation, OT and postgame:

Discussion from...

Bears Fall 10-7 to TCU in Defensive Battle

SurvivorOf1and10fkaLEA
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Song didn't miss the FG at the end of regulation. It was Bunce.
KenBurnski
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I don't think Song missed the kick in regulation
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