Cal uses two fourth-quarter touchdowns to snap Stanford’s Big Game streak, 24-20

November 27, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 27, 2019

Cal quarterback Chase Garbers ran for a 16-yard touchdown with 79 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to lead the Bears to a 24-20 win, the team’s first victory over Stanford since 2009.

The outcome of the 122nd Big Game clinched bowl eligibility for the Bears (6-5 overall, 3-5 in the Pac-12) while ensuring that the Cardinal (4-7, 3-6) will have its first losing season since 2008.

Garbers, participating in only his second game since sustaining an injury in late September, finished with 285 yards on 20 of 30 passing. The redshirt sophomore threw one touchdown and one interception; he was also the game’s leading rusher with 72 yards on 13 carries.

The Cardinal received the ball first and took just two minutes to score, thanks in part to a 37-yard Conor Wedington return that let the offense take over at the home 40.

Three plays and 20 yards into the drive, with the ball positioned on the Cal 40, the Cardinal had two receivers split right, speedster junior Osiris St. Brown and little-used senior Donald Stewart. When junior Davis Mills dropped back, redshirt senior running back Cameron Scarlett picked up a defender blitzing from the right as St. Brown went deep and junior tight end Colby Parkinson, a stalwart in the Cardinal passing game, released from the line and moved into the flat.

The remaining Cal defenders on that side of the field focused on St. Brown and guarding against a QB scramble, completely understandable decisions that left Stewart wide open. Mills threw a nice ball that Stewart turned and gathered in around the 8-yard line before scoring his first collegiate touchdown. It was the Hillside, N.J., native’s first catch since making a six-yard reception in the 120th Big Game on Nov. 18, 2017.

The Golden Bears tied the score with a 13-play, 90-yard drive that concluded with a seven-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore running back Christopher Brown Jr.

The Cardinal responded with an eight-play, 45-yard series that saw Mills convert third and four with a 43-yard throw to sophomore wideout Simi Fehoko. Stanford was hit with a delay of game penalty before it could get off another snap, however, and two plays later, the team was flagged for a false start. On fourth and 12, freshman Ryan Sanborn successfully kicked a career-long 48-yard field goal from the visitor 30 to give Stanford a 10-7 lead.

The Bears moved 43 yards the other way on nine plays, setting up a 49-yard kick by redshirt senior Greg Thomas that again tied the score.

The visiting defense quickly forced a Cardinal punt, letting the Bears offense take over with a little less than five minutes to go in the half. Cal got to the home 13 before being pushed back by a holding penalty; after a two-yard gain by Brown and an incomplete throw by Garbers, Thomas came on to try a 38-yard kick with 22 seconds to go. But the score remained 10-10 at halftime because senior defensive end Jovan Swann deflected Thomas’s try.

The Cardinal defense forced a trio of three-and-outs by the Golden Bears offense to begin the third quarter, but it took some time for their teammates to capitalize. One Cardinal drive was snuffed when redshirt sophomore safety Daniel Scott zoomed in from the backfield to make a diving interception of Mills at the visitor 31. Another was ended by redshirt senior safety Jaylinn Hawkins, who made a leaping pick at the one-yard line as Mills attempted to connect with Fehoko for six points.

The ensuing drive, Cal’s third of the stanza, resulted in a 22-yard punt by redshirt senior Steven Coutts. That would be a long punt in any circumstances, but this was rather dire: It came from the visitor 8 and let Stanford take possession at the Cal 30.

After two short Scarlett runs, Mills converted third and five with an eight-yard slant to Fehoko. Two plays later, the junior out of Duluth, Ga., threw over the middle to sophomore Michael Wilson, who took the ball in around the 6-yard line and made his way to the 1. Scarlett capped the series with a one-yard leap; his sixth rushing touchdown of the season gave the hosts a 17-10 lead with 2:09 remaining in the third period.

On the last play of the quarter, Garbers had an 11-yard rushing pickup to put the ball at the home 35. After a false start, senior inside linebacker Curtis Robinson stepped up in a major way, dropping Brown one yard behind the line of scrimmage on first and 15 before sacking Garbers for a five-yard loss on the next play. An incomplete pass ensued, followed by a Bears punt.

Offenses on great teams make important plays in the fourth quarter. Offenses on dominant teams rarely need to, as the game is already in hand by the final period. This Stanford team, however, has proven itself below-average, and the last 15 minutes of Big Game showed why.

Given a chance to add to a one-score lead, the Cardinal offense gained only 21 yards on six plays over three and a half minutes. When Cal regained the ball, they marched 84 yards in five plays and two minutes and 15 seconds. The big play was a 40-yard connection from Garbers to sophomore wideout Nikko Remigio; the capper was an 18-yard touchdown involving the same two players. That retied the score at 17-17 with 7:44 left in regulation.

The Cardinal offense came out needing a score to retain the Axe and any hope of bowl eligibility. On third and eight at the home 37, Mills threw to Parkinson for 18 yards. On third and one at the Cal 36, Scarlett picked up three on the ground. On third and four at the 27, however, Scarlett was held to one yard. Sanborn was summoned again, and again he made a field goal. His 44-yarder at the 2:23 mark gave Stanford a 20-17 lead.

That was good, but it wouldn’t be good enough — especially since Cal, having outscored Stanford 7-3 in the quarter, then executed a six-play, 75-yard series that ended with Garbers’s touchdown run.

The Bears, who didn’t face third down during the possession, virtually guaranteed themselves no worse than a tie when junior Trevon Clark turned and made a terrific catch over freshman cornerback Kyu Blue Kelly for a 37-yard gain while going out of bounds. The play, which started with Garbers making a fantastic throw to the sideline from the far hash, set up a Bears first down at Stanford’s 16.

Two plays later, Garbers pulled down the ball, slipped away from a tackle attempt by redshirt senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill and ran on an angle for the 16-yard go-ahead touchdown. Remigio blocked freshman safety Jonathan McGill out of the play to help the Cal quarterback score.

There was time left for Stanford to regain the lead, but only if the offense played to its utmost ability. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, on second and four, St. Brown caught a ball just past the line to gain with 1:11 on the clock. But the junior wideout turned back, apparently in an effort to get out of bounds; as a result, he was tackled by redshirt junior cornerback Camryn Bynum for only a three-yard gain.

Mills, who finished 26 of 35 for 283 yards with a touchdown and two picks, threw incomplete on third and one. On fourth and one, with the game on the line and less than a minute remaining, Scarlett tried to go up the middle. He was stopped just short by Cal’s star defender, senior inside linebacker Evan Weaver, who has a nation-leading 164 total tackles.

With that, Stanford’s Big Game streak ended.

Helpful links

Cal-Stanford team statistics — ESPN
Cal-Stanford box score
Cal-Stanford play-by-play
Cal-Stanford video highlights
Cal-Stanford interactive box score —
Cal-Stanford statistics (PDF) —
Stanford 2019–20 football roster
Cal 2019–20 football roster
@memomoment game tweets

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