The South is renowned for its hospitality, and in the first-ever matchup between Cal and North Texas, the Bears got to experience as much firsthand. Even with a name like “Mean Green,” it sure was kind of North Texas to help the Bears walk away with their third-straight win of the season and to give Cal another chance at bursting into the college football AP top 25.
A pass interference on North Texas helped Cal’s first drive put points on the board, giving the Bears an early 7 point lead. Cal quarterback Chase Garbers was caught scrambling several times but managed to end the 75-yard drive in the endzone with the help of running back Christopher Brown Jr., whose 2-yard run for the score marked the first of many points the Bears would earn in the first 15 minutes.
Holding North Texas’ quarterback Mason Fine and his offense to only 4 yards by midway through the first quarter, the Bears’ defense wasted no time in shutting down the Mean Green’s most lethal weapon. Jaylinn Hawkins ended North Texas’ first drive in a hurry, forcing a fumble and gifting Cal the ball once again on the Mean Green’s 22-yard line. A few lucky passes from Garbers and two field goals later, Cal was up 13-0.
North Texas’ first rush of over 5 yards came with just over two minutes left in the first quarter, following Cal receiver Nikko Remigio’s first career touchdown pass reception for 36 yards. Up 20-0 by the start of the second quarter, the Bears kept the Mean Green nearly immobile for the entirety of the first fifteen minutes — North Texas’ longest drive totaled only 39 yards and resulted in no points. Cal converted three out of their five third downs while North Texas failed to even move the chains. Garbers also piled up 45 rushing yards to lead the team by the end of the first quarter.
The Bears’ tempo slowed considerably in the second quarter as Cal started playing many of their second stringers, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Even still, North Texas managed only a paltry 24 rush yards in the quarter and notched only 3 points with only 1:36 left in the half. Evan Weaver led the defensive charge with his five total tackles, trailed closely by backup cornerback Branden Smith and Cameron Goode with three tackles apiece, the latter notching two for a loss and one sack.
Much like how weather delays can benefit an underdog team by virtually resetting morale (sound familiar?), halftime saw a massive shift on the field as North Texas stormed out of the gates — only 55 seconds into the second half, the Mean Green’s Mason Fine threw to receiver Jaelon Darden for a 68-yard touchdown, the longest pass play of the season for North Texas, to make the score 20-10 for the Bears. Cal’s offense saw minimal action, earning only a field goal after a laborious 12 play, 58-yard drive.
“We have got to play better. We have got to play a lot better,” Chase Garbers commented. “It starts with me — I’ve got to put balls in the right spot. Everywhere else, we just have to execute better.”
North Texas earned 148 total yards in the third quarter, while Cal managed only 62. The Bears struggling to halt Fine and his formidable passing game as they did in the first half. Instead of letting North Texas take the reins and reign, though, the Bears decided to hang around.
As the Mean Green stepped up their game, so did Cal — corner Camryn Bynum swatted a would-be touchdown pass just moments before Traveon Beck intercepted a lofty pass from Fine to put Cal back in charge. Although they never attained anything close to the level of play they showed at the beginning of the matchup, the Bears gave just enough to edge out North Texas.
Converting only 2 of 9 third downs in the latter half of the game, Cal had a sloppy second half as a whole, almost enough to conjure up haunting memories of the previous season. Bynum broke up what would have been a game-changing throw from Fine to intended receiver Austin Ogunmakin on 4th and 15 to seal the Bears’ victory, and given the comeback North Texas imposed, this win carries even more weight.
Despite the team’s shortcomings during its lull in playmaking and scoring, the Bears had a convincing showing, especially during the first half. Considering recent losses, the season-ending injury of lineman Will Craig and tight end McCallan Castles’ departure from the program, the offense showed during the first 15 minutes of play that even though it has many things to clean up, the unit has real potential.
“There’s a lot of playmakers in the offense — it’s just a fact of getting it done,” said wide receiver Nikko Remigio.
Garbers, despite completing only 9 of 22 pass attempts, is looking more and more balanced each week. He seems to have developed quite the rushing game, earning a career-high in both carries and yards against the Mean Green. The defense always seems to be able to keep Cal in games, and today was no exception — without the Bears’ prodigious secondary and the help of Evan Weaver, there’s no guarantee that the Mean Green wouldn’t have walked away with their first win against a Pac-12 team in 24 years.
Although Cal played a closer game than they would have liked, the Bears are undefeated this season. What was once the 125th-best offense in the NCAA has helped Cal to three wins, one of them against a ranked team. Next weekend’s away game at Ole Miss will undoubtedly be a challenge for Cal, but with momentum behind them, there’s no telling what the Bears will be able to pull off.
Jaylinn Hawkins put it best: “A win’s a win at the end of the day.”