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Bears Storm Back to Defeat Idaho, 31-17

September 16, 2023


It wasn’t pretty by any means and there is still plenty of cleaning up and correcting to do, but California showed a lot of grittiness and toughness while overcoming a 17-point deficit on the way to a 31-17 win over Idaho on Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.

One week after a crushing and mistake-filled 4-10 home loss to Auburn, the Bears were again far from sharp and were missing their best offensive player with running back Jaydn Ott, who remains sidelined after suffering an injury late in the loss to the Tigers.

But coach Justin Wilcox’s offense made just enough plays and the defense pitched a shutout in the second half to beat Idaho in the first meeting between the two schools in nearly 90 years. The Bears have never lost in five games between the two programs.

It was a much-needed shot in the arm for the Bears, who completely outplayed North Texas in the opener then kept things close against Auburn despite the mistakes and fell short.
“First of all, I’d like to compliment Idaho,” Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said. “It’s a tough team. They’ve got some dang good players. They’re well-coached. I thought they did a really good job.

“I expected us to start much better than we did. Unfortunately for a number of reasons, we did not and really dug ourselves a hole. Defensively, the third and fourth downs were just not very good. Not good at all. Really poor early in the game and they converted i think all of them and then they put the ball in the end zone. And offensively, we left some plays out there. There was some RPOs. We had a slant on third we dropped. There was just a number of plays where we couldn’t quite find our rhythm.”

“We were just playing down to the competition,” said Kaleb Elarms-Orr, who led the Bears with 8 tackles, two quarterback hurries and one pass breakup. “I feel like we came in here knowing that we were good but were just at the end of the day, playing down to their level. We were not playing our style of defense. We kind of just got together on the sidelines and it was 17-0. Our offense did a good job scoring at the end of the half and then we just picked it up on defense and got that momentum going and just did our jobs.”

Without Ott, Cal’s offense still had a lot of success on the ground. Isaiah Ifanse ran 22 times for 137 yards and a touchdown. It was the first career 100-yard game at Cal for the Montana State transfer and the 18th of his career.

Ashton Stredick had 77 yards on 11 carries, helping anchor the Bears running game that averaged 6.0 yards a carry while outgaining the Vandals on the ground 256-108.

Quarterback Sam Jackson V also played a big role in his second start of the season. Jackson passed for 108 yards and two touchdowns and added another 41 yards and a touchdown on the ground before being forced out of the game again following another big hit.

Cal’s defense made the biggest difference and kept Idaho from starting a season with three consecutive wins for the first time since 1994. The Vandals, ranked No. 10 in the FCS coaches poll, got on top early but wilted toward the end and failed to score on their final nine drives after going up 17-0 in the first quarter.

The Bears forced three turnovers, including two critical fumble recoveries in the fourth quarter to halt any hopes the Vandals had of coming back.

Idaho quarterback Gevani McCoy and his favorite target, wide receiver Hayden Hatten, connected eight times for 80 yards but the duo were held out of the end zone.

McCoy completed 28 of 46 attempts for 279 yards. Seven of McCoy’s completions went for 15 yards or more, an area Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon has been harping on his players to improve.

Idaho came out strong, with McCoy utilizing a short passing game to keep the Vandals moving. Cal’s defense clamped down on the first drive and held Idaho to a 25-yard field goal by Ricardo Chavez.

Idaho drove into the red zone again with McCoy and Hatten hooking up for a 17-yard gain on a 4th-and-9 play. Running back Anthony Woods took a direct snap out of the shotgun then rumbled into the end zone from 19 yards out to help extend the lead to 10-0.

An illegal block in the back penalty on the ensuing kickoff pushed Cal’s offense deep into its own territory. The Bears worked the ball to midfield but turned it over on downs following a Jackson incompletion after getting to the Idaho 47.

McCoy continued to attack Cal’s defense with short passes and connected with Jermaine Jackson for 24 yards then later scampered into the end zone on a 4th-and-2 run, as Idaho expanded the lead to 17-0.

At one point, the Vandals held a 200-47 advantage in total yards.

The Bears flipped the script in the second half and never looked back

Jackson got Cal’s first points when he connected with Jeremiah Hunter for a 20-yard touchdown late in the second quarter before the Bears defense came up big again.

The Vandals got a little cocky on the ensuing drive and went for it again on fourth down near midfield, only Jto see Cal’s Jeremiah Earby slap away McCoy’s short throw to Hatten.

The stop paid off as Cal needed only four plays to get back into the end zone, Jackson hitting Trond Grizell deep down the right sidelines for a 36-yard touchdown that helped trim the gap to 17-14.

“A great feeling,” Grizzell said of his first TD catch. “Obviously with the ball in the air that open, I’m a little nervous but just glad I came down with it.”

McCoy had the Vandals on the move again but under pressure from Kaleb Elams-Orr, the Idaho quarterback rushed his throw and was picked off by Nohl Williams, his second consecutive game with an interception.

The Bears, as was the case against Auburn, weren’t able to convert the turnover into points and went into halftime trailing by three.

Cal came out running well in the third quarter, with Jackson flashing his speed and athleticism. The Bears’ quarterback Jackson scrambled twice for 12 yards before breaking loose for a 27-yard touchdown on a keeper that gave the Bears their first lead of the afternoon. Jackson faked a handoff, juked a defender in the backfield then raced past Idaho’s defense, took a hit at the 5, then scored.

Idaho continued to press its luck on fourth down early in the third quarter and again turned to the duo of McCoy and Hatten but a pass over the middle fell incomplete, giving Cal the ball at the Idaho 48.

Then it was the Bears’ turn to try their fortune on fourth down, and it paid off.

Facing a 4th-and-3 near the red zone, Ben Finley replaced Jackson at quarterback and completed a short pass to Hunter that kept the drive going. Two plays later Infanse carried for 17 yards down the 2. A facemask penalty on the Vandals moved the ball to the one, and Infanse bulled his way into the end zone to help Cal go up 28-17.

The Bears defense, which had given up scores on the first three Idaho drives, tightened up and held down the fort after that.

Idaho drove to Cal’s 34-yard line before a holding penalty pushed the Vandals back to the 44. On 1st-and-20, McCoy completed a short pass to Terez Tarynor who fumbled after a big hit by Lu-Maggia Hearns III. Raymond Woodie recovered for the Bears.

Cal kicker Michael Luckhurst, who had come under fire after missing five of his first seven field goal attempts this season, converted from 39-yards out to make it 31-17. Luckhurst later missed from 42 yards out in the fourth quarter.

The Vandals came up short again on another fourth-down play on their next drive, turning the ball over on downs for third time.

After Cals’ offense punted, the Bears defense came up big when McCoy completed a 5-yard pass on Idaho’s first play of its final drive but Jordan Dwyer fumbled and Cal’s Myles Jernigan recovered.

Idaho had one final chance to score on offense but managed only two first downs and couldn’t get to midfield before the clock ran out.

Discussion from...

Bears Storm Back to Defeat Idaho, 31-17

4,381 Views | 4 Replies | Last: 8 mo ago by BearHunter
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Go Bears
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Why don't we pass in the middle of the field? SJV just too short is my guess... that is giving up a lot just to play someone for their running abilities. I guess QB2 is just that much worse.
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Econ141 said:

Why don't we pass in the middle of the field? SJV just too short is my guess... that is giving up a lot just to play someone for their running abilities. I guess QB2 is just that much worse.

The TD Jackson threw to Hunter was over the middle.
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