So close, yet so far

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For many teams, victories come and go. Ebbing and flowing throughout the season, failure is as natural as winning. If you don’t have one, by default you must have the other. After a failure, optimism for success next time is all that’s left.

Unless you’re Cal football, in which case achieving a win seems to be a fool’s errand.

The blue and gold have notched two almost-victories in a row this season. Losses are no longer black and white for the Bears — they’re gray. Just as soon as Cal recovered from the hail of mistakes that rained down on it against Nevada, small errors seemed to sprinkle onto the field against TCU, ultimately wiping the Bears out in a flash flood. 

After the Aug. 28 eruption in the offensive line, it seemed as though the blue and gold were ready to get back on their feet in Texas. Yet, after a frustrating and greatly unsatisfying 34-32 loss, Cal fans lost a little more hope for the rest of the season.

Like in the Nevada faceoff, the Bears came out swinging during the first half of the game against the Horned Frogs. The beginning quarters were beautiful, with head coach Justin Wilcox and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave putting their faith in starting quarterback Chase Garbers and seeing positive results come from it. Where the Nevada matchup was an embarrassment for Garbers, the TCU game was his redemption. He played the best game of his career: Aggressive and tactical, Garbers launched two touchdowns, throwing 309 yards with 235 yards passing in the first half (199 of those yards coming from just four plays), setting a record for himself.

In the first half alone, a 68-yard wonder was shot to senior wide receiver Trevon Clark, marking a record completion for Garbers. Clark continued the trend of impressive plays with two receptions tallying more than 50 yards. Redshirt senior wide receiver Kekoa Crawford celebrated a career 49-yard reception on Cal’s first drive, not to mention redshirt senior safety Daniel Scott’s snatch of a pick six.

Then why, oh why, did Cal lose?

Unfortunately, big plays don’t matter when they’re punctuated by small mistakes. It only takes one missed PAT to pop a Bears fan’s hope-filled balloon. Despite a stellar first half, the prick of the PAT seemed to metastasize into a stab-wound-sized crater as the game continued. Even as touchdowns came and went, no one could stop the bleeding of a singular mangled snap. PATs have been a point of contention for the Bears, who have historically had trouble in the area. Not being able to convert three PATs eventually cost Cal the game, handing it on a silver platter to the Horned Frogs. 

But that can’t be all, can it? A few PATs here, a few missed snaps there — was TCU just better than Cal?  

While TCU quarterback Max Duggan did exemplify the Horned Frogs’ strength, the source of the crowd’s cheers was undoubtedly star running back Zach Evans. Evans was the No. 2 recruit in the nation and the player who had scouts everywhere practically foaming at the mouth. Just before the clock struck halftime, Evans emerged with a 51-yard touchdown that shifted favor into Horned Frog territory.

As the game narrowed down to the final few minutes, the mistakes that seemed trivial during the first half showed their worth. After the Bears’ final attempt at converting at the end zone, the blue and gold remained in the gray of victory, notching another loss with a mere 32 points. 

So close, yet so far. 

After the game, Cal fans tried to muster up any hope they had left for the rest of the season — possibly shake their heads free of deja vu they experienced in comparison to Cal’s loss against Nevada a week prior. Wilcox offered his version of encouragement: “We’re a few plays away from playing pretty good football,” he said.

For a Pac-12 college football team, “pretty good football” should be the baseline. When will the Bears stop settling for “pretty good” and start striving for “great”? Perhaps hoping for great from Cal football is just another fool’s errand. 

Maria Khan covers men’s soccer and football. Contact her at [email protected].