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Bears Retain The Axe in Thrilling 125th Big Game Victory over Stanford

November 19, 2022

BERKELEY - The 125th annual edition of the Big Game featured two 3-7 teams badly in need of a victory and change in narrative and some positivity to build on at the tail end of their 2022 schedules and it was the Bears who came up victorious in a stirring 27-20 comeback victory over Stanford. 

For three quarters, it looked like the Bears’ run of futility that included a 6-game losing streak after starting the season 3-1 would be extended at the hands of their dreaded rivals but a furious 21-3 fourth-quarter comeback made sure The Axe would remain in Berkeley for the second year in a row and for the third time in four seasons.

The Cardinal drew first blood, taking the opening kickoff and easily marching down the field in a 6-play, 75-yard drive before the minutes was three minutes old, scoring on a 12-yard Tanner McKee TD pass to running back Mitch Leigber to take an early 7-0 lead after the PAT.

The Bears countered on their first possession driving to the Stanford 37 before their drive stalled, settling for a 54-yard Dario Longhetto field goal to pull to within 7-3. Longhetto had been struggling of late but hit the long field goal with plenty to spare and added another 38-yarder to go a perfect 2-for-2 on the day.

Both teams traded field goals on their next two possessions, making it a perfect 4-for-4 in combined scoring drives to start the game as the Cardinal took a 10-6 lead into the second quarter.

From there, both offenses went silent for the rest of the half with neither team scoring. The Bears threatened to score heading into the break, driving to the Stanford 11 but a Jack Plummer pass was easily intercepted in the end zone by Stanford corner Alaka’i Gilman with 2:21 remaining. On the play, refs missed a clear mauling of tight end Elijah Mojarro that would’ve given the Bears a first and goal on the Stanford 5 instead of an INT.

The third quarter saw Stanford take a 17-6 lead on a methodical 71-yard, 11-play drive midway through the third quarter. With the Bears’ offense continuing to sputter throughout the third quarter, it wasn’t looking like good odds for the Bears to retain The Axe.

But when the fourth quarter rolled around, everything changed - in a big way.

Taking over at the Stanford 47 after returner Jeremiah Hunter fielded a 52-yard Ryan Sanborn at the Cal 31 and returned it 22 yards a minute into the fourth quarter, the Bears went on the move. 

A pair of Plummer passes for 10 yards to WR J.Michael Sturdivant and 7 yards to WR Monroe Young sandwiched between Jaydn Ott runs of 6, 8 and 14 yards brought the ball to the Stanford 1 on the first possession of the fourth quarter. The next play, the Bears finally had their first TD of the game when Plummer took the hike in the shotgun and hit Young with this third TD of the season. A failed 2-point conversion attempt that would’ve trimmed the Stanford lead to a field goal instead saw the Bears trail 17-12 with 11:18 remaining.

On the second play of the ensuing Stanford drive, the Bears finally caught a break with a fumble by Cardinal backup quarterback Ashton Daniels on a Daniel Scott hit. The fumble was recovered by Cal cornerback Jeremiah Earby at the Stanford 40 and returned three yards before Earby fumbled after a hit by Daniels. A fortuitous bounce into the hands of MLB Jackson Sirmon turned into a scoop and score TD run by the senior to finally give the Bears their first lead of the game at 20-17 after a successful Jaydn Ott 2-point conversion.

''It bounced right to me,'' Sirmon said. ''I was in the right place at the right time. All I did that play is I didn't mess it up. The ball came right to me and I ran with it.

''It's really neat... as a defensive player, you don't get a lot of opportunities to score touchdowns and you have to enjoy them when you get them. It was very neat especially considering the timing of it all.''

The Bears maintained their narrow 3-point lead through the next few possessions before creating another opportunity, this time on the heels of a Daniel Scott interception that put them back in easy scoring position. The 6th year hauled in an errant McKee pass at the Stanford 49 on the dead run, returning it 40 yards before being hauled down at the Cardinal 9.

The rest was the Jaydn Ott show, with the talented frosh picking up gains of 6 and 2 yards before diving over the pile into the end zone for a 1-yard TD to give the Bears a commanding 27-17 lead with just 59 seconds remaining.

Plummer was just 23-for-43 with 1 TD and 2 INTs on the day, though he easily had a half dozen well-thrown balls uncharacteristically dropped by the normally sure-handed Cal receivers. Ott rebounded from a quiet first half to add 97 yards in 18 carries with 1 TD and a 2-point conversion on the ground and 3 catches for 51 yards through the air. Hunter led the Cal receivers with 5 catches for 105 yards. Sturdivant added 5 catches for 70 yards and Anderson had 7 for 49 yards.

On defense, the Bears were led by MLB Femi Oladejo with 11 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 forced fumble and Scott with 10 tackles, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble.

Stanford managed a last-gasp drive, moving to the Cal 43, with kicker Joshua Karty drilling an impressive 61-yard field goal but it was too little, too late as the clock expired during the play, sealing the 4-7, 2-6 Bears’ victory as fans streamed onto the field to celebrate retaining The Axe and restoring some long-awaited joy to Memorial Stadium with the Big Game win in front of 51,892 joyous fans.

"We know how important this game is to us as a team, our administration and our support staff," said head coach Justin Wilcox. "Our fans and students were just incredible tonight. What an awesome environment."

The Bears will close out their season against 16th-ranked 8-3 UCLA next Friday at Memorial.


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Discussion from...

Bears Retain The Axe in Thrilling 125th Big Game Victory over Stanford

4,743 Views | 4 Replies | Last: 1 yr ago by chazzed
Big C
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After a Big Game victory is pretty much the only time I'm eager to hear our coaches or players speak to the press, but these moments are golden. So happy for all of the guys, especially seniors like Daniel Scott and Monroe Young.
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Big C said:

After a Big Game victory is pretty much the only time I'm eager to hear our coaches or players speak to the press, but these moments are golden. So happy for all of the guys, especially seniors like Daniel Scott and Monroe Young.
I'm so very happy for the players who have had to live this losing season week after week. We can go onto our computers/phones and walk away. These players don't have that choice.

One thing I found interesting was Jack saying they cut the amount of plays by half (and he said that meant 50 plays). So it makes sense that Musgrave made things way more complicated that it should have been. Tedford got that way as his play card kept getting bigger and bigger. Maybe it's an Oregon thing who knows?

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So happy for the players, who get to enjoy the fun of a BG win.

Happy for the fans to have something to celebrate.

It's been a long, ugly season. I'm glad they got to have this special win.

Go Bears!
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How often have we had the pleasure of saying that we've retained the axe? Not very often in recent years.

Go Bears!
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