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Bears Lose Tough One to #10 WSU in Palouse, 19-13

November 3, 2018

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON -The Bears had the chance to pull off a road upset over #10 WSU but a late interception in the red zone and a last-minute Cougar drive sealed Cal's fate in a disappointing 19-13 loss in Martin Stadium tonight.

The Bears found themselves in position to take the 4th quarter lead with 7:34 left in the game. 

After driving 76 yards in 14 plays to the Cougar 12, rotating quarterbacks Chase Garbers and Brandon McIlwain, the turnover-prone McIwain overshot an open Patrick Laird in the flat, with WSU safety Skyler Thomas intercepting the errant pass in the end zone.

"I kind of thought it was going to go out of bounds but I was just playing my half of the field," said Thomas. "I saw it sailing so I am going to go up and try to get it. The defensive lineman forced a bad throw and he ended up throwing it right to me and I got my feet down."

"We were in a position where we had a chance and an opportunity," said McIlwain. "If I make a better decision, we have a chance. We made a lot of great plays this game. We fought and we competed."

"We played really hard and competed hard but didn't play well enough to win," said Wilcox. "We had chances and we weren't able to take advantage of them." 

Asked why they chose to play the turnover-prone McIwain in crunch time, Wilcox noted the Bears' struggles in moving the ball and were looking for more big play opportunities.

Unfortunately, the big play they got went WSU's way.

"We have to find a few more plays in the game in order to win," said Wilcox. "We're trying to find some explosiveness. It's hard to go 17-18 plays to try and find some points."

It was the latest in a string of backbreaking turnovers by McIlwain over the past six games and one the Bears couldn't overcome, as WSU managed a late drive for the win, with Cougar QB Gardner Minshew going 5-for-7 in crunch time, hitting receiver Easop Winston for a 10-yard game-winning td on the final 69-yard drive to take the 19-13 lead with 27 seconds remaining.

"Coach Leach, if there's one thing I remember he says, is just make routine plays and as a team, that's what we try to do every time we go out there," said Winston. "This is another level, man. It feels great."

"We've just got to find a way to make a play," said linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk, who led the Bears with 9 tackles, a sack and 1.5 tfl's. "We played well but we didn't win.

"It's just disappointing. It doesn't matter where the opposing team is ranked, whether they're one or unranked. We need to win."

It wasn't just McIwain who struggled on offense. Running back Patrick Laird  was only able to gain 40 yards in 18 carries against the tough Cougar defense -simply not enough production to defeat a top ten program on the road.

The game saw WSU off to a quick start on the opening possession, with the Cougars marching down the field with a dazzling array of Gardner Minshew completions but the Bears' D held tight in the red zone, forcing a 29-yard Blake Mazza field goal.

The Bears took a 7-3 lead four minutes into the 2nd quarter on a bit of trickeration, faking a dive up the middle from the 2, with quarterback Chase Garbers hitting big fullback/tight end Malik McMorris for the td as he slipped into the flat, all alone for the td catch. The 9-play, 39-yard drive came after linebacker Evan Weaver's second interception of the season after narrowly missing another Pick-6 on the play before.

WSU retook the lead, 10-7, with 6:41 left in the half, going 75 yards in nine plays, with scrappy tailback Max Borghi doing much of the damage. Borghi punched it in on an 11-yard run, with the Cougar line winning out on a scrum to the end zone for the last four yards.

The Bears looked to bring the game into the half knotted up after a 42-yard Greg Thomas field goal tied it at 10-all with a minute left in the half but a big Travell Harris 46-yard return put WSU in position to retake the lead. A 28-yard Minshew completion to receiver Easop Winston moved the ball to the Cougars to the Cal 23, but the Bears D held tight, with the Cougars settling for a 36-yard Mazza field goal to take a 13-10 lead into the locker room.

After trading several possessions, the Bears finally got back on the board on a big 46-yard Thomas field goal to knot the game at 13 with 2:04 left in the 3rd quarter. The Bears had narrowly-missed another disastrous Pick-Six earlier on their drive after a Garbers interception appeared headed for a Willie Taylor touchdown, but Garbers fought off the block to knock the ball loose and the Cougars were unable to control it before the ball squirted out of the end zone, giving the Bears a touchback and possession again for the scoring drive.

In the end, the tie didn't hold up in the emotional 19-13 loss.

Garbers went 15-for-26 in the game for 127 yards and a touchdown in addition to his interception. He led the Bears' rushing game with a net of 67 yards in 11 carries on the night, extending drives several times.

"I thought it was a really tightly-contested game," said WSU head coach Mike Leach. "I think two very good teams. Cal coming off the momentum of their win last week but the other thing is Cal's been playing really well lately and as the season's gone on, I think they've gotten better and better. I thought it would be a war and it was."

"We played a tough game," said Weaver, who had nine tackles and a breakup to go along with his interception. "We fought until the end. We just have to work on finishing the game on all aspects of the game.

"We know what we have to do. We trust in each other and the process. It was a tough loss but we will bounce back next week with focus and intent to win. This doesn’t define who we are and will not define our season. Next week will be a work week and we will be prepared for USC."

The Bears fell to 5-4 (2-4) for the season. WSU maintained their Pac-12 North lead, moving to 7-1 (4-1) heading into their final four games of the season.

The Bears will be on the road again next week against a struggling 5-4 USC team in the LA Coliseum.

They'll need to find a way to get their dormant offense on track in order to reach the 6-game minimum for bowl eligibility and to get back on track after tonight's hard-fought loss because as they've found out for the past two seasons, five games isn't good enough in the end.

Discussion from...

Bears Lose Tough One to #10 WSU in Palouse, 19-13

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"We didn't play well to win in any phase of the game." That's an insult to the D. The D completely did it's job against possibly the best offense in the nation. The O and especially Mr. Baldwin did not, especially on the last two drives. That's pretty much an across the board consensus. Also saying he played BM to get more explosiveness, doesn't excuse him from why he was in during a critical series where we could absolutely not turn the ball over. That was the ballgame and Baldwin/Wilcox basically played with fire by allowing BM to try and make plays in that situation knowing what BM tends to do.
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Baldwin should be fired for this ridiculous QB system.
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You cant have #5 in the game in critical situations. This is the decision making I question regarding the coaches.
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You cant have #5 in the game in critical situations.

Yes, and critical situations is anytime throughout the game where the score is close and Cal has a chance to win. Save McIlwain for garbage time.

Having said that, there are things I like about McIlwain. I like that he owns his mistakes. I like that he is a Cal Bear, and once a Bear always a Bear (well, except for he must not be named).
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