By:|Terry Collins:|4.0 Sports Media
The Stanford Cardinals (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) and the Cal Bears (7-4, 4-4) squared off for the 112th edition of “The Big Game.” In the end, it was two spectacular defensive interceptions by Stanford’s cornerback Paulson Adebo that sealed a 23-13 win for the Cardinals.
Both teams won their last two outings and needed a win to improve their bowl positioning. Stanford’s quarterback K.J. Costello entered the game ranked first in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and second in the conference in passing yards per game.
The Bears stout defense had only allowed an average of 14.2 points over its last five games. Cal linebackers Jordan Kunaszyk and Evan Weaver led all FBS duos in solo tackles per game (13.7) and all Power 5 duos in total tackles per game (23.2).
During the first half, Cal’s defensive scheme used two high safeties to prevent big plays down the field. Stanford worked underneath the safeties and went 12 plays for 75 yards. Stanford settled for a field goal and led 3-0.
On Stanford’s second drive, Cal brought 1 safety down in the box and running back Cameron Scarlett took a screen pass for 46 yards for the score. Stanford took an early 10-0 lead.
Cal’s offense leaned on the girth of Malik Morris, a 290-pound fullback. Morris plunged for the first down on a 4th and 1. Morris sparked the crowd with an ensuing catch. The momentum in the stadium had shifted in Cal’s favor. Cal’s offense stalled and they settled for a field goal. Stanford led 10-3.
The Bears next possession was sparked by a 62 yard run by Patrick Laird on 3rd and 3. Laird put the ball at the Stanford 12 yard line. Quarterback Chase Garbers missed receiver Jordan Duncan in the back of the end zone and Cal settled for its 2nd field goal of the half. Stanford led 10-6.
Just before halftime, Stanford’s receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside made a leaping 31-yard grab and landed on the Cal 1 yard line. Stanford had 2 consecutive incomplete passes from the 1-yard line. The game clock went down to 5 seconds and the Cardinals settled for a field goal. Stanford went into the half leading 13-6.
The 3rd quarter was a defensive battle and exchange of punts. Cal was driving down the field when Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo ended the threat by making a spectacular one-handed diving interception in the end zone.
In the 4th quarter, Cal started one possession on the Cardinal 19 yard line. Cal went three an out and missed the 37-yard field goal. Stanford led 13-6.
Stanford’s quarterback Costella went up top to receiver Arcega-Whiteside for a 24 yard gain down to the Cal 23 yard line. On 3rd and 9 from the Cal 13 yard line, Stanford went with a jumbo formation and pounded the ball for 10 yards. On 4th and 1 from the Cal 3 yard line, Stanford opted for the field goal and went ahead 16-6 with 3:43 left in the game.
With Cal driving, Stanford’s Paulson Adebo closed the game by making another 1 handed interception by reaching around the receiver and taking the ball off his back. Adebo sprinted to the end zone and was tackled on Cal’s 3-yard line. The Cardinals punched it in the end zone on the next play. Stanford led 23-6.
Cal’s quarterback Garbers drove the Bears 75 yards down the field and capped it off by throwing an 11-yard touchdown to receiver Jordan Duncan. The final score was Stanford ahead 23-13.
Stanford’s quarterback Costello passed for 240 yards and was 18 of 29 on pass attempts. Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had 5 catches for 109 yards. The Bears’ running back Patrick Laird rushed for 116 yards on 19 carries. Cal’s Chase Garbers passed for 1 touchdown, 197 yards, and was 22 of 39 on pass attempts. Unfortunately, his two interceptions proved to be too costly. Stanford has won the big game and retained the axe for 9 consecutive years. Both teams now await the decision of the Bowl Selection Committee.