Cal football falls to BYU, 42-35, narrowly misses out on bowl eligibility

Lawler TD
Cal Athletics/Courtesy

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Fifty-three seconds remained in the game — and possibly Cal’s season. The Bears, trailing by seven to BYU, were 35 yards away from salvation.

On first down, quarterback Jared Goff threw incomplete to Kenny Lawler. On the next play, Goff lofted a pass to Chris Harper in the end zone. Harper extended for the ball, but BYU defensive back Robertson Daniel knocked the pass away at the last moment. On third down, a leaping catch by Lawler inside the BYU 10-yard line extended Cal’s bowl game hopes. Less than 30 seconds remained.

A false start backed up the Bears to the 14, and they were forced to take their final timeout to avoid a 10-second runoff.

The first down pass was incomplete. Twenty-five seconds left. Another incomplete pass on second down. Twenty-one seconds left. On third down, Goff couldn’t find an open receiver and threw the ball away.

On fourth down, with 14 seconds remaining and with Cal 14 yards away from the end zone, Goff took the last offensive snap of the Bears’ season. He eyed Lawler in the back corner of the end zone, letting the ball rip through the cool night air. Lawler left his feet. His defender did, too. The ball sailed over both their heads and out of the end zone. Incomplete. Game over.

On Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the Cal football team (5-7, 3-6 Pac-12) let its chance at reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2011 slip away. The Bears fell to BYU, 42-35, ending their season.

“It’s hard to take in right now,” Goff, who threw for 393 yards and four touchdowns, said. “It’s hard for the whole team.”

Despite the nightmare ending for the Bears, the first half was promising. With Lawler bringing down three touchdowns from Goff, the Bears entered halftime holding a 21-14 edge over the Cougars.

BYU (8-4) evened up the game on its first possession of the second half. With the ball on the 22-yard line, running back Algernon Brown caught a swing pass. He stumbled when he first caught the ball, but after regaining his balance, Brown ran through two would-be tackles and rumbled into the end zone.

On Cal’s next possession, Goff under threw Bryce Treggs and was intercepted by Skye PoVey.

But BYU returned the favor. With a 1st-and-goal on Cal’s one-yard line, BYU quarterback Christian Stewart, who racked up 433 yards and five touchdowns, lateraled the ball toward fullback Paul Lasike. The ball bounced off the turf, and Cal defensive back Stefan McClure scooped up ball.

The Bears drove down the field. At the BYU nine-yard line, Tre Watson took a carry to the right. As he approached the end zone, three defenders zeroed in on him. Watson leapt toward the endzone. He spun in midair and crashed into the pylon. The official raised his arms to signal a touchdown. With 4:12 remaining in the third quarter, the Bears led 28-21.

But that didn’t deflate the Cougars, who responded with their own touchdown drive that lasted 10 plays. After Lasike weaved his way through the Cal defense on a 28-yard pass, Stewart hit Mitchell Juergens for a game-tying, nine-yard touchdown.

BYU broke the tie with 11:49 left in the game. On second down and eight at the 17-yard line, BYU wide receiver Jordan Leslie fought off a jam and released down the right sideline. Stewart led Leslie with his arm, allowing him to take the pass in stride. Nothing but green stood in Leslie’s 83-yard path to paydirt. And just like that, BYU went up, 35-28.

The seesaw affair continued as Goff and Trevor Davis hooked up for a game-tying 23-yard touchdown pass just a couple minutes later. The teams traded punts after heach coach Sonny Dykes passed up a fourth-and-one at his own 34-yard line. With just more than four minutes remaining in the game, BYU got the ball back on its own 34.

“Looking back, I obviously wish I had (gone for it),” Dykes said. “But it’s one of those things, if you don’t get it, you probably lose the ball game.”

With less than two minutes remaining in the game, BYU struck. Lined up in the slot, Leslie ran straight up the middle of the field with no defender in his area code.

“Inside of me, I was screaming ‘Stewart, throw me the ball,’ ” Leslie said.

Stewart lofted the pass over the top. Leslie brought in the catch. The Cougars had earned the lead with just more than two and a half minutes remaining. Cal got the ball back but failed to reach the end zone. And despite starting the year with a 4-1 record, the Bears missed out on the postseason for the third consecutive season.

“It was a surreal thing, just seeing them running around and celebrating that they beat us,” said running back Daniel Lasco, who rushed for 130 yards. “It’s embarrassing, almost.”

Sean Wagner-McGough covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @seanjwagner.