As has been tradition so far this season, the Cal football team aimed to bounce back from a road loss with a home win. Coming off an atrocious performance in an embarrassing overtime loss at Oregon State, the Bears needed a home win against a struggling Oregon team to realistically keep their bowl game hopes alive. Cal did indeed win, led by more than 300 rushing yards from its running backs, but the victory was hard-fought.
The Bears went into halftime with a 31-14 lead and a seemingly easy victory in the making, but surrendered 21 straight points. A missed game-winning field goal by Bears kicker Matt Anderson set up overtime, and Cal narrowly escaped with a 52-49 victory after Jordan Kunaszyk picked off quarterback Justin Herbert in the second overtime period.
“I was tired, I was huffing and puffing trying to get a breath and everybody was jumping all over me,” Kunaszyk said. “I was just living in the moment, thankful for the opportunity and the coaching staff and my teammates trusting me.”
After the teams traded punts to open the game, Cal began a string of three consecutive touchdown drives off Oregon punts. All three scores came off passes from Davis Webb, but the drives were highlighted by the Bears’ running game, which consistently found holes in the Ducks’ front seven.
Two of those scores came in the first quarter as Cal built a 14-0 lead with touchdowns from Demetris Robertson and Raymond Hudson. The Bears had 117 yards on the ground through the first quarter ─ they averaged 152.3 per game coming into the matchup ─ with Khalfani Muhammad dominating the second scoring drive and finishing the quarter with 81 yards.
After falling down 21-0, the Ducks bounced back with two touchdowns of their own ─ a pass from Herbert to Pharaoh Brown and a run by Tony Brooks-James. But efficient clock management from the Bears got them into the endzone once more. The Bears entered the half up 31-14, and were poised to receive the second half kickoff.
Cal started the second half with more of the same, with Webb finding open receivers and Muhammad and Tre Watson carrying the Bears to another field goal on the opening series. Cal forced a punt on Oregon’s next drive, and the game seemed to be in the Bears’ hands.
Instead of driving downfield and sealing the win, Cal was forced to punt when Cal head coach Sonny Dykes questionably called timeout only for Webb to punt on fourth down for a total of 10 yards. The Ducks got into the endzone less than two minutes later, cutting the Cal lead to 34-21 after a Herbert pass to Evan Baylis.
The Bears punted on their next drive and turned the ball over on downs the following possession, and each time the Ducks scored touchdowns to take a 35-34 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“They got down and they still kept playing, and I think that’s a credit to coach (Mark) Helfrich and his coaching staff,” Dykes said
But just as the game looked to be slipping out of the Bears’ grasp, they engineered another drive led by their running backs as Watson gained 25 rushing yards and dove to reel in his second touchdown pass from Webb. A two-point conversion extended their lead to 42-35.
Cal appeared to regain its first-half defensive prowess on the next series, but Luke Rubenzer committed a defensive holding penalty to give the Ducks a free first down on 3rd and 26. Marloshawn Franklin Jr. was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty later in the drive, but the defense held strong through its mistakes and forced a punt nonetheless.
The Bears’ offense punted away the great opportunity given to it by the defense, and the Ducks tied the game again with a 42-yard touchdown from Herbert to Nelson with 3:15 remaining.
Webb, who passed for 325 yards and five touchdowns, led his team downfield for what he thought was one final time, completing all five of his passes and setting Anderson up for a game-winning 41-yard field goal attempt. The kick missed wide left, however, and the Bears were thrown into their second consecutive overtime game.
Both teams exchanged touchdowns on their first possessions, and Anderson hit a 28-yard field goal to give Cal a 52-49 lead. Kunaszyk came up with the game-winning interception on Oregon’s second play.
“(I’m) proud of our guys for getting the turnover at the end. They just kept playing and believing and fighting,” Dykes said. “Just another boring Cal football game.”
Vikram Muller covers football. Contact him at [email protected].