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Bears Beat the Heat, Romp Over North Texas, 58-21

September 2, 2023

DENTON, TEXAS - The Texas heat in a summer-long heatwave was a big topic of conversation heading into the Bears’ season opener, but in the end, it was the Bears’ scorching offense that lit a fire in North Texas’ DATCU Stadium with their biggest scoring output in over a decade in their 58-21 win over the Mean Green to start the season.

The newfound depth in the Cal program showed itself in spades today as backup players put up some of the most critical performances in the Bears’ big win, including a 3-touchdown game by backup running back Isaiah Ifanse and an impressive 23-for-34, 279-yard, one TD performance backing up injured QB Sam Jackson.

“I’m really proud of the team,” Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said. “It’s really hard to win in college football so we celebrate every victory. It’s nice to be able to learn some lessons in a victory. There’s going to be a lot to learn. Guys stepping up when people got dinged up early in the game. Great to see that.

“We played a lot of people really in every phase - offense, defense and special teams. So seeing that number of different jersey numbers running out there and contributing in a victory was really big. Offensively, to run the ball really efficiently and hit some big runs opens up some things. And offensively, the story of the day was really the self-inflicted wounds was kind of the things that would stall us out. Procedure penalty or missed blocks on the perimeter or something like that. But we moved the ball well, put it in the endzone, but there's still points left out there. We feel like overall, proud of that group.

Defensively really, it's the two explosive passes. The first one, the miscommunication. Something we've seen a number of times. The players, the defense, we were all feeling that one because it was something we had worked on. So we've got got to clean that up. And the second one with the technique error, hit the big play over the top. So we can eliminate the X plays, which is easier said than done. But then you've probably played a dang good game. Special teams, the guys ran down and covered our kickoff. We've got to shore up PAT, field goal. We've got to continue to work, but it was good to get those reps.”

Among the injuries were QB Sam Jackson early in the first quarter after suffering an upper-body injury on a tackle and center Matthew Cindric, who also suffered an upper-body injury in the first quarter. Later injuries included RB Isaiah Ifanse, DE Nathan Burrell and nickelback Mathew Littlejohn. Wilcox deferred to team doctors on the status of each of the injuries when questioned.

After being used somewhat sparingly in fall camp to keep him healthy, running back Jaydn Ott had a big game, rushing for 188 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries.

“It was good to finally cut loose today,” Ott said. “That first one really got me energized and got the whole offense hyped...Our line just went out there and did their job like they were supposed to.”

The Bears started strong, opting to kick off and forcing a quick 3-and-out, including a 2-yard Ethan Saunders TFL. They wasted no time on the offensive side, striking quickly with a 41-yard Jadyn Ott run on his first touch and a quick 23-yard TD strike from QB Sam Jackson on a slant to WR Jeremiah Hunter two plays later to take a 7-0 lead on the Michael Luckhurst PAT just 2:07 into the game.

The Bears’ quick TD drive woke up the Mean Green, scoring quickly themselves on a 5-play, 75-yard drive keyed by a 58-yard reception to Ja’Mori Maclin over a badly-burned Lu-Magia Hearns with no safety help. Two plays later, Earle hit Maclin again on a 3-yard toss over Hearns to tie the game at 7 with 11:04 left in the quarter after the Rauschenberg PAT.

The UNT defensive stiffened up the next drive, forcing a quick 3-and-out as did the Bears on the ensuing possession.

The Bears next went on the move with another big Ott run, this time for 38 yards to the UNT 33 followed by an impressive Jackson scramble for 13 yards before the drive stalled at the Mean Green 14. Looking to regain the lead, the Bears were foiled with a Luckhurst miss on the gimme kick from the 22 wide left.

Shaking off their frustration, the defense stepped up, with cornerback Jeremiah Earby coming in for Hearns jumped an Earle pass for an interception at the 50 and returned 34 yards to the UNT 14. The drive was all Ott from there, with four straight runs culminating in a 4-yard untouched TD run to go up 14-7 with 1:04 remaining in the quarter.

The Mean Green struck back quickly. After a 13-yard completion from Earle to Rodrick Burns followed by a 59-yard TD pass to Maclin over a badly beaten Earby two plays later to knot the game at 14 after the PAT to start the second quarter.

Adversity struck next for the Bears as Jackson scrambled right and coughed up the ball on the sidelines, getting knocked out of the game as the ball rolled out of bounds, seemingly concussed as he was taken to the locker room before returning out of pads.

After taking over with strong field position following a shanked Sawyer Evans punt at the UNT 44, Montana State transfer running back Isaiah Ifanse and NC State QB Ben Finley took over in the backfield, leading a 7-play TD drive culminating in a highlight reel 26-yard TD run, with the former Bobcats career leading rusher bulling his way through seemingly the whole Mean Green defense, dragging several defenders with him to the end zone over the last several yards as the Bears regained the lead, 21-14 with 7:30 left in the half.”

“It’s a great feeling, “Ifanse said after the game. “Going into this week, I was just head down, grinding. I didn’t know what to expect about this week. But I just let things about out and I think it went really well.”

The Bears next forced a 3-and-out, taking over at their 25. It was all Ott from there, with the soph running back picking up 9 on a first down followed by a 66-yard untouched scamper with the O-line opening up a big hole with left guard Brian Driscoll sliding over to center and Matthew Cindric moving in at left guard. On another special teams miscue, the Luckhurst extra point attempt was clocked as the Bears took a 27-14 lead with 5:42 left in the half.

The Bears got another quick stop on UNT but coughed up a turnover on the next possession as Ott saw the ball poked free on a run off tackle, with UNT recovering at the Cal 24 with 2;51 left in the half. The Mean Green quickly capitalized, with Earle hitting tight end Xzavior Kautai for a 9-yard strike over safety Patrick McMorris for the score, pulling to within 27-21 with 1:47 remaining in the half.

Regaining some critical momentum, the Bears put together an impressive 9-play, 75-yard TD drive to answer on the strength of 20 and 34-yard Finley completions to receivers Taj Davis and Monroe Young and an 8-yard TD run by Ifanse to go up 33-21 after the failed 2-point conversion attempt with 7 seconds remaining in the half. The Bears’ 33 points were the most scored by the Bears in a half since the Bears took a 35-33 lead over Texas in Austin under former and current OC Jake Spavital in the Bears’ 50-43 victory in Austin in 2016. The Bears replicated the feat earlier in the season with 35 first half points in their season-opening victory over Hawaii in Sydney, Australia. Running back Ott set a career first half high with an impressive 177 yards at the break to go along with his two TDs.

The Bears continued their momentum in the second half, putting together a methodical 9-play, 75-yard TD drive culminating in another Ifanse TD on an easy 1-yard run up the middle. Following the TD, the Bears confused the UNT defense, lining up most of their line on the left side of the field before Finley took the snap, rolled right and hit tight end Jack Endries for the 2-point conversion to go up 41-21 with 11:24 left in the quarter.

The Bears’ defense stepped up the next possession with linebacker Kaleb Elarms-Orr securing an impressive diving interception on the UNT 32. 8 plays later, Finley zipped a 4-yard TD pass between two defenders to put the Bears up 48-21 with 8:02 remaining in the third quarter, a lead they’d take into the fourth quarter. 

The Bears extended their lead to start the fourth quarter, taking over at the Cal 43 on downs. After Finley completions of 17 and 18 yards to wide receiver Mavin Anderson and tight end Jack Endries, the Bears extended their lead to 55-21 on a 5-yard Ashton Stredick TD run with 11:42 left in the game. The TD was the Bears’ sixth rushing TD of the game.

Following a Blake Antzoulatos interception returned to the UNT returned 8 yards to the UNT 37, the Bears extended their lead to 58-21 after a 31-yard Luckhurst field goal with 6:27 left in the game in the final score in the Bears’ victory.

The game was a tale of two halves in the end as the Bears’ gave up a surprising 21 points and 216 total yards in the first half and a stellar zero points and 9 total yards to North Texas in the 2nd half while putting up 25 points and 303 total yards on the way to a sterling 669 total yards for the game with a balanced attack of 384 yards on the ground and 312 through the air in the romp.

The Bears will be back in action next in their season opener at 7:30 pm in Memorial Stadium on Saturday vs. SEC power Auburn in a Gold Out event.

Discussion from...

Bears Beat the Heat, Romp Over North Texas, 58-21

4,339 Views | 5 Replies | Last: 22 days ago by Cal Junkie
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Wilcox does not seem very happy,

Hopefully we get him to smile after we beat Auburn.
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Hats off to the coaching staff for having this team prepared and for making some small adjustments that lead to a second half shutout with several backups. Aside from the injuries, this game had everything we could have hoped for in terms of performance, and team development.
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Loved seeing Ben Finley come in and run the team as he did. A few plays he wishes he could have back but you could tell he has played before and was poised and confident. Been a while since Cal had a backup come in and play like that. Not perfect but considering everything really good.

Ifanse ran hard. He is a tough runner. That TD where he broke all the tackles was a great case of just wanting it more. Happy to have him.

Ashton Stredick getting a TD back home in Texas was terrific. Works hard and got a chance to play yesterday and very happy he was able to contribute as he did and have fun back in Texas.

A lot of players got to play. That is always a good thing. I think everyone contributed and the depth I thought they had showed up.

Jaydn Ott is who we thought he is. Dynamic player.

58-21 wins do not happen all the time. I am so happy they continued to play. The killer instinct is something I think this team has missed over the years.
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calumnus said:

Wilcox does not seem very happy,

Hopefully we get him to smile after we beat Auburn.
If the Cal team keeps putting up numbers like this, and/or wins like this, I personally don't care if he smiles or not.
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SFCityBear said:

calumnus said:

Wilcox does not seem very happy,

Hopefully we get him to smile after we beat Auburn.
If the Cal team keeps putting up numbers like this, and/or wins like this, I personally don't care if he smiles or not.
Opining here: Coach would have to be disappointed about the injuries, and that his secondary was burned a bit in the first half. They tightened things up, though the injuries may be a concern.
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