Have you ever had an appetizer so good that the entree became irrelevant? With its 37-21 win over the Stanford Daily on Cardinal ground, The Daily Californian Ink Bowl squad managed to avenge a brutal loss two years ago and make Cal’s loss in the Big Game an afterthought in the minds of everyone that mattered.
Head coach and current Daily Cal Sports Editor Andrew Wild, attempting to become the first player-coach to preside over a Daily Cal win since CBS Sports’ Sean Wagner-McGough in 2014, made a series of key strategic decisions that allowed him to do just that. His first insight came in deciding how to deal with a dicey quarterback situation. Sophomore and sports-editor-to-be Justice delos Santos was supposed to be the signal-caller in last year’s game, but he threw his arm out because of his overly rigorous practice routine.
Junior Jeff Liu stepped in and was a better replacement than anyone could have asked for, sprinting past Cardinal players on offense and recording a late interception touchdown to lead the Daily Cal to a 44-28 home win, after an embarrassing 63-7 loss on the road the year before.
With delos Santos and Liu both healthy this time around, Wild briefly considered holding a true competition and converting the loser to a full-time wide receiver, but he eventually decided to implement a dual-quarterback system, integrating a playbook that allowed both to play on the field at the same time with pistol formation looks and jet sweep-style motions.
The defensive secondary was looking good with freshmen Armen Aprahamian and Dev Navani showing great instincts for ball-hawking and Liu holding down the middle of the field as a safety. Without linebacker Levi Hill, who was the unquestioned leader of the 2016 “Golden Curtain” defense, the front was a different story.
Wild once again filled in at defensive tackle, and freshman Can Sariöz grew into an excellent pass rusher throughout fall practice, but a certain X-factor was still missing. When junior transfer Jesus Aceves came to his first practice the day before the actual game, Wild knew he had found his missing piece.
Along with the contributions of Alicia Sadowski, Surina Khurana and Rory O’Toole, one could be mistaken for thinking that Wild hired fall sports applicants not on their writing merits, but on his attempt to fill out a football roster. He declined to release a statement on the matter, but he also failed to deny the accusation.
Logistical planning that cut far into his plans for seeing a concert Friday night let Wild take those latecomers to the game, along with a healthy rooting section that put the Stanford Daily’s nearly nonexistent crowd to shame. A profane and scatalogical speech that focused on private school versus public school themes sufficiently prepared the team and crowd for the game.
The Daily Cal won the toss thanks to a well-executed toss-and-call from delos Santos and Wild, and the offense ran into a big problem right away. The 6’4’’, nearly 300-pound problem was named Matthew Gutwald, a sophomore who played guard for the actual Stanford football team the year before. He helped to stall the Daily Cal offense on its first drive, but after nearly knocking Wild’s teeth out on a run block, his impact on the game was limited by communication along the offensive line (seniors Vikram Muller, Austin Weinstein and junior Wild) and the disarming humor of a certain player-coach.
Eventually, being able to rotate out delos Santos and Liu at the quarterback position and get rest for both allowed fresh legs to dominate, and the Daily Cal held a 14-0 halftime lead thanks to a delos Santos scramble and a jump ball catch from Navani thrown by delos Santos. The defense held up perfectly against a formidable rushing attack, stopping the Cardinal from scoring at all on a first and goal situation.
Delos Santos took the lead on halftime adjustments, but some teammates were concerned about how seriously he was taking a game the Daily Cal was winning and not having enough fun. Wild believed that delos Santos was likely a bit winded and getting a bit panicky, so he sat him to start the second half.
“I’m mad I missed that touchdown to end the half, we should’ve been up by 21,” a visibly frustrated delos Santos said during the halftime break. Channeling his inner Ben Simmons, as he says it, delos Santos would finish with two rushing, one receiving and one passing touchdown in his Ink Bowl debut.
Liu looked good running a basic spread system, finding receivers Ethan Epstein and Praveen Kuruppu for big gains. Kuruppu made a one-handed touchdown grab that was as impressive as any Ink Bowl play in recent memory, and his teammates celebrated him in appropriate fashion. Since the first day of practice, delos Santos has been calling Kuruppu “Odelly with the Left” because of the wide receiver’s tendency to make one-handed grabs when it was completely unnecessary. Epstein would leave the game after a concussion.
Sariöz and Aceves were a formidable front throughout the game, and they worked together for a safety early in the second half. Before long, Cal had a commanding 37-7 lead. Gutwald was featured more on offense in the last 15 minutes, and he proved to be completely unstoppable as a receiver, even bowling over his own teammates. Had he been utilized earlier, it’s hard to imagine the Daily Cal defense clamping down for so long.
Letting their foots of the gas a bit, Daily Cal let up two touchdowns to make the game close, but it was not enough for the win. The Daily Cal would take home the X-Acto knife trophy yet again.
The future bodes well for The Daily Californian squad. The only graduating players are offensive linemen Muller and Weinstein, and although their contributions will be missed, Sariöz and Aceves can play their positions as well. With another year of planning, delos Santos and Liu’s shared playbook should only prove more devastating. As long as Gutwald doesn’t convince Bryce Love to play going forward, it seems that Wild could have presided over the begining of a Cal dynasty.
“I don’t have teammates,” Wild said. “I have family.”