Five victories and still going strong: Stanford keeps rivalry streak intact with 38-17 triumph over Cal in the 117th Big Game

November 24, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 24, 2014

Big Game’s luster has dwindled somewhat in recent years. Stanford walloped Cal in their 2013 meeting, 63-13; the 50-point thrashing was the largest point differential in Big Game history. It was the Cardinal’s fourth consecutive Big Game triumph; only one of those contests, Stanford’s 31-28 win in 2011, was closer than 18 points. In each of those four years, the Cardinal went on to enjoy 11 or 12 total victories.

If the 2014 matchup wasn’t quite as glamorous as it has been in past year, there were circumstances that added an element of intrigue to Saturday’s contest. The teams entered the 117th Big Game on much more even footing than of late; both sported 5-5 overall records.

But in most other ways, the teams were mirror images of one another. A 5-5 win-loss tally represented a come-up for Cal, which won only a single game in 2013; for Stanford, which finished last year 11-3 with a Rose Bowl berth, that record was a definite let-down. Cal has a prolific offense and a terrible defense; going into Saturday, Stanford’s scoring defense was ranked seventh nationally (16.5 points per game), but its offense was relatively anemic.

On Saturday afternoon in Berkeley, Stanford took a 17-point lead into the locker room at halftime — yet the game could easily have gone differently.

The visitors in white jumped out to a 10-0 lead thanks to a short Remound Wright touchdown run and Jordan Williamson’s 24-yard field goal. But on its second possession, Cal drove the length of the field and seemed poised to score.

Then junior linebacker Blake Martinez chopped the ball out of the arms of Cal running back Daniel Lasco. In a play reminiscent of the one he made in triple overtime to secure a road victory against USC in 2011, fellow inside backer A.J. Tarpley recovered the fumble at the goal line, quashing the Bears threat.

This was a temporary setback for the blue and gold. Stanford was unable to move the ball, and Ben Rhyne’s 51-yard punt was returned to the Cardinal’s 47-yard line. Four plays later, sophomore quarterback Jared Goff completed a 10-yard pass to Stephen Anderson that made the score Stanford 10, Cal 7. If it hadn’t been for Lasco’s fumble, the Bears could easily have had an early lead.

Stanford’s offense clicked on the next drive, with quarterback Kevin Hogan hitting Devon Cajuste for passes of 14 and 16 yards and Kelsey Young for 18 yards. That last gain brought Stanford to the 5-yard line.

At that point, Shaw — whose year-long tendency to rotate running backs relentlessly has maddened many Cardinal boosters — gave Wright two carries in a row. The first went for no gain, but the senior brought the ball across the goal one on his next rush. A review by replay officials corrected the original on-field spot, in which Wright had been marked down at the 1, and resulted in the awarding of a touchdown. Stanford once again enjoyed a 10-point lead.

It was already shaping up to be a career outing for Wright, who had scored two career touchdowns entering the season, and who had scored two more in the course of 2014. But the senior running back wasn’t done yet…

In response to Wright’s second touchdown of the day, Cal mounted a solid drive before Martinez picked off an errant Goff pass at the Cardinal 24-yard line.

Two of the next five plays would also be interceptions. Hogan badly overthrew a receiver on a deep ball and was picked by Darius White. The next two plays resulted in a sack of backup Cal quarterback Luke Rubenzer (for a loss of 1 yard) and a second Martinez interception of Goff, which the linebacker gathered in at the Cal 12-yard line.

Stanford needed just three plays to score its third touchdown. After Hogan and Wright alternated short ground gainers, Hogan had a five-yard scoring run. Now it was Stanford 24, Cal 7.

Although this was a respectable lead, the game was far from decided. The visitors kept their momentum going in the third quarter, holding the Bears to 15 yards on the opening possession and then scoring thanks to Wright’s third touchdown run of the day. That two-yard TD was enabled by a 27-yard Hogan-to-McCaffrey connection and a 16-yard pass to tight end Austin Hooper. Now the score was 31-7, and a rout appeared to be brewing.

The score would hover there for a while, although not due to lack of action. First, Cal mounted a 40-yard drive that brought them to the Cardinal 35-yard line. But Cal’s change-of-pace quarterback, Rubenzer, was intercepted at the 12-yard line by strong safety Jordan Richards. (The Cardinal was penalized six yards because the senior defender celebrated the pick by dropping to the turf and doing a few pushups.)

Shaw fed Wright on three straight carries, but he came up a yard short, and on fourth and one, Rhyne had to punt for the second time on the afternoon.

The kick went 43 yards, to Cal’s 42, but Chris Harper brought the ball back 27 yards. That set the line of scrimmage at the Cardinal 31-yard line — even closer to the end zone than the Bears had been when Rubenzer was intercepted.

The possession started with Lasco rushing for 14 yards. Moments after that, the game suddenly became very strange.

On the drive’s third play, Rubenzer brought the ball to the goal line on a run that was initially labeled a 12-yard touchdown. After the play was reviewed, Rubenzer’s carry was downgraded to an 11-yard rush, giving the Bears first down and goal to go from the 1-yard line.

Rubenzer carried on first down and went nowhere. On second down, he was awarded a touchdown, but again the play was reviewed, and again the call was overturned.

Steven Moore was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct as this play came to an end, so the line of scrimmage was moved back to the Cardinal 16 for Cal’s third-down play. Goff returned to the field and threw what was initially deemed to be a touchdown pass to Kenny Lawler. But after yet another review, officials decided that Lawler hadn’t made a legitimate catch in bounds. Amazingly, on three of the previous four plays, Cal had initially been awarded a score, only to have the call correctly overturned by replay officials.

Because the Stanford defense had been offsides just before Goff threw to Lawler, Cal was given five yards and allowed to replay third down with the line of scrimmage now at the Stanford 11. Rubenzer rushed for eight yards, to the Cardinal 3, but the play was negated by a holding penalty on the Bears.

That gave the Bears third down and goal to go at the Stanford 21-yard line — a net loss of four yards in six snaps. Goff, again behind center, threw unsuccessfully to Lawler, and the Bears were forced to settle for a 38-yard field goal. California had gone from apparently getting a touchdown that would have made the  score 31-14 to having first and goal from the 1-yard line to sending in the kicker.

James Langford’s attempt was good, but Cal’s potent offense had suffered a Keystone Kops–like humiliation, the scoreboard said 31-10, and Stanford was still up by a lot.

The Bears successfully recovered an onside kick. Shaw challenged the ruling, and even though there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the on-field ruling, it was a shrewd decision — the head coach gave his defenders a rest while preserving a small chance of regaining possession of the ball.

With the onside recovery confirmed, the Bears were once more able to move the ball — up to a point. On third and 10 from the Cardinal 24, Goff attempted an incomplete pass to Bryce Treggs (son of Brian Treggs, he of the infamous unfulfilled 1991 promise to move to Palo Alto). On fourth down, Goff carried the ball to the Stanford 22 before seniors Henry Anderson and Wayne Lyons tackled him.

After holding the ball for close to six minutes on consecutive possessions, Cal had only three points to show for their efforts. A desperate Bears team that had had a chance to narrow the margin considerably instead lagged by three touchdowns.

And the difference would soon grow. It’s worth reviewing the exact sequence on Stanford’s initial fourth-quarter possession:

• First down and 10 yards to go from the Stanford 22-yard line: Hogan rush for seven yards.

• 2-3-S29: Hogan rush for three yards and a first down.

• 1-10-S32: Wright rush for three yards.

• 2-7-S35: Wright rush for two yards.

• 3-5-S37: McCaffrey rush for 12 yards and a first down.

• 1-10-S49: Hogan rush for 24 yards and a first down; Cal penalized 14 yards for a personal foul.

• 1-10-C13: Cal’s Stefan McClure penalized seven yards for a dead-ball personal foul.

• First and goal to go from the Cal 6: Wright rush for minus-three yards.

• 2-G-C9: McCaffrey rush for four yards.

• 3-G-C5: Wright rush for five yards and a touchdown.

That touchdown, with 7:36 remaining in the game, not only gave Stanford a 38-10 lead, it allowed Wright to double his career touchdown total in a single day.

The game wasn’t over, but the outcome was all but etched in stone. The Stanford defense forced Cal to punt, and then the Cal defense returned the favor. Because Rhyne’s attempt was deflected, Cal enjoyed a short field. The Bears were able to score after Rubenzer threw to Trevor Davis for 17 yards and Lasco had consecutive carries of 14 and 12 yards. The last rush went for a touchdown, which finalized the scoring at Stanford 38, California 17.

One other play of note occurred in this game. It came with 49 seconds remaining when Terrence Alexander recorded his first career interception, a pick of Rubenzer at midfield that the freshman cornerback returned to the Cal 4-yard line.

All that was left to do was kneel twice and celebrate the Cardinal’s retention of the Stanford Axe.

Wright (23 carries, 92 yards) was the game’s offensive star. His four touchdowns tied a Big Game record and gave the heretofore rather anonymous senior a permanent place in Cardinal football lore.

Wright, of course, wasn’t the only Stanford hero in the game — he was simply the least likely one. Hogan (an efficient 15-20 for 214 yards, no touchdowns and an interception; seven carries, 46 yards and a TD) finished the game with 491 career completions, passing Todd Husak and Trent Edwards. The senior quarterback also moved past Husak by ending the day with 6,912 yards of career total offense.

Martinez became the first player to record two interceptions in Big Game since Cal’s Nnamdi Asomugha did so in 2001; his 11 tackles led the Cardinal squad on the day, which is fitting, as he entered the game with a team-high 81 defensive stops. Richards, who had eight tackles, recorded his second interception of 2014 and the eighth of his career. Williamson, Stanford’s leading career scorer, who became the program’s most successful field goal kicker last week, has now hit 67 straight extra-point kicks, which is tied for the second-longest string in Cardinal history.

In short, it was a very very good day to be a Stanford Cardinal.

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