Cal fans were exultant when Davis Webb hit Bug Rivera in stride for a 33-yard touchdown to tie the game at seven, but their spirits immediately dropped on the next play when Rashaad Penny took the following kickoff 100 yards to the house to reclaim the Aztec lead. And that sentiment resonated at Qualcomm Stadium throughout the entirety of Saturday night, as the Bears were defeated by San Diego State 45-40 in an exciting shootout that went to the wire.
Cal had little difficulty putting up points, as quarterback Davis Webb threw for 522 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions, but its defense and special teams were exposed. The Bears were able to get decent pressure on SDSU quarterback Christian Chapman, but they missed numerous tackles, consequently giving up many big gains to the Aztecs.
In the fourth quarter, the defense finally forced two turnovers, but after a high scoring game, the Bears’ offense couldn’t capitalize and seal the win. Cal had one final drive after recovering an onside kick to win the game but Webb threw an interception instead of the needed touchdown. Donnel Pumphrey led the Aztecs with 281 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“We knew what we had to do. We didn’t execute as well as we could have, but our effort was outstanding,” said wide receiver Chad Hansen. “(Cal head coach Sonny Dykes) said that was the hardest any team has played under him. It’s no consolation, but we know we left everything out on the line.”
The game began with the Bears doing just as expected, giving up two embarrassing touchdowns in the first quarter, only to make up for them both with big passing touchdowns by Davis Webb. The first score of the game came after SDSU recovered a Jordan Veasy fumble at Cal’s 25. The Aztecs hit the endzone on the next play with a pass from Christian Chapman to Rashaad Penny. The Bears, however, responded immediately, with Webb’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Rivera.
But the game wasn’t tied for very long, as Penny once again sent Qualcomm Stadium into a frenzy with his 100-yard kick return for a touchdown. Webb was not deterred, as he marched the Bears down the field 75 yards, culminating in a 49-yard touchdown to Hansen, who easily burned Damontae Kazee — the returning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year — in single coverage.
Each team added another touchdown on its next possession. With 14 minutes and 22 seconds left in the half, Pumphrey weaved through the Cal defense with a 33-yard touchdown run, but Webb responded with his third touchdown pass of the game. He drove the Bears another 75 yards and hit Raymond Hudson with a floated touchdown pass from 21 yards. Hudson’s catch over two defenders tied the game at 21.
SDSU’s next series took nearly five minutes and ended in a punt that pinned the Bears at their own 12-yard line. Webb, however, was hurried on the first play of the ensuing drive and intercepted by Ronley Lakalaka, who took it back for a touchdown. The following Cal drive was little better; as Webb was sacked, the Bears went three-and-out and the Aztecs proceeded to drive down 58 yards for a field goal and a 31-21 lead heading into halftime. Webb’s struggles with increased pressure held the Bears scoreless in the last 11 minutes of the half.
The second half started similarly, as the Bears went to the hurry-up offense to tire the Aztec blitz. And while the hurry up successfully got the Bears 52 yards downfield to the SDSU 23-yard line, Webb was intercepted again, looking to connect with Hansen in the endzone for a second time. While Cal failed to put points on the board, SDSU had no difficulty doing so just over a minute later, when Pumphrey blazed through the Cal defense again with a 57-yard rushing touchdown.
Webb wasn’t done yet, and on the following drive he only took three plays and 48 seconds to hit freshman Demetris Robertson for a 59-yard touchdown, trimming the Aztec lead to 38-28. The Bears defense forced a punt on the next SDSU drive, and Matt Anderson nailed a 45-yard field goal to bring the Bears back within a score, 38-31. The Cal defense finally made its presence felt on the first play of the fourth quarter, as Evan Rambo intercepted Chapman, but the offense wasn’t able to tie the game as it was forced to settle for a 36-yard Anderson field goal.
Luke Rubenzer gave the Bears an excellent chance to take the lead, recovering an SDSU fumble at the SDSU 37-yard line, but Webb threw four consecutive passes, completing only one, and turned the ball back to the Aztecs on downs. Both teams then traded punts, and the Pumphrey onslaught continued as he rattled off rushes of 15 and 31 yards while SDSU tried to milk the clock. He seemed to effectively seal the win with his third rushing touchdown of the game, putting the Aztecs up 45-34 with 2 minutes and 47 seconds remaining.
“The numbers (Pumphrey) put up speak for themselves,” Hansen said. “He’s a great player. We knew that coming in. We knew he was going to be a force we were going to have to reckon with, and he turned out to make a few more plays than we could afford.”
Webb marched the Bears into the endzone again, finding Hudson again after a 79-yard drive, and a missed two-point conversion left the Bears needing a touchdown at 45-40. They recovered the onside kick, but Webb threw his third interception, this time to Kazee, and the Aztecs ran out the clock.
“There’s play after play that we’re going to look at and say, ‘Wow, we had an opportunity to win the game there.’ There’ll be lots of those – maybe 20, 25 plays over the course of the ball game,” Dykes said. “That’s what happens especially in a game like this. It’s just a hard-fought, competitive football game and anytime that’s the case there’s always some plays that you wish you had over again.”
Vikram Muller covers football. Contact him at [email protected].