COVID-19 and lost confidence: A shell of Cal loses 10-3 to Arizona

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Twenty games without a victory. Overall, 0-8. Pac-12 play, 0-5. Yet, Arizona did the unthinkable Saturday, as its first win this season came against Cal with a final scoreline of 10-3.

All the way from gloomy Berkeley, the 3-5 Bears journeyed to sunny Tucson to face Arizona on its home turf. With nothing remotely wild about the Wildcats, the game was expected to be a fairly easy win for the blue and gold — that is, until 24 Cal players tested positive for COVID-19.

“We found out on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We were almost not filling the starting 11. A lot of guys played their first action,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox.

Gracing the field with a depleted roster, the Bears were operating under a heavy loss, mainly due to the absence that was felt on the field without starting quarterback Chase Garbers. With senior Ryan Glover replacing Garbers, the offense was in all forms of disarray as young recruits received playing time that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. Miscommunication and ineffective play calling was sprinkled all over the first two quarters on both sides.

“The (offense) did the best that they absolutely could. Ryan did the best he could. He was a bit off on throws; he did the best he could,” Wilcox said.

Cal’s pickings for starters were slim, but at least some surefire fixtures were available to play. One was senior linebacker Marqez Bimage, who recorded three tackles in the first half alone. Another was punter Jamieson Sheahan, who took the longest punt of his career at 57 yards.

Cal kicker Dario Longhetto was also absent from the field. Not that he was needed, anyhow, as the Bears failed to approach field goal range more times than not. At halftime, both teams were at a 0-0 standstill.

A scoring drought by the Bears through two quarters was unexpected, especially given Arizona’s lackluster 0-5 conference record. While Cal did force two turnovers and displayed some faith-restoring pass breakups, the fact that it couldn’t manage any touchdowns to a winless opponent was uninspiring.

After Arizona quarterback Will Plummer suffered an injury and left the field with a bloody hand, Jamarye Joiner entered the game. One of five quarterbacks that Arizona is known to routinely rotate, Joiner was rumored to be out during this match due to a right knee sprain. Yet, braving that injury, he replaced Plummer during the third quarter.

The Wildcats managed a lead as the game neared the end of the third quarter. Via a 29-yard field goal, the unthinkable happened: Arizona was up 3-0 against the Bears.

Those three points served as a wake-up call for Cal, which attempted and succeeded in tying the game 3-3 shortly thereafter. Redshirt sophomore Nick Lopez — Longhetto’s replacement — sank a 34-yard field goal.

Tied at 3-3, the Bears were full of hope that proved to be absolutely fruitless. With about two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the kittens finally lived up to their “Wildcats” moniker as they scored a touchdown and extra point, giving them a 10-3 lead.

In the winding minutes, a plethora of passing misfires by Glover led to Cal’s demise. After the visiting team failed to answer back, Arizona fans stormed the field. It was the Wildcats’ first win since their match against UCLA in the fall of 2019, almost 800 days ago.

A game that was supposed to be an easy win for the Bears, Arizona had hit rock bottom before meeting the blue and gold. The Bears have now proven that there is nowhere to go but up.

The Pac-12 shows that underdogs can still find success, even after two years without a single win. The Bears displayed this by winning against Colorado and Oregon State after a losing streak of its own. Now, they have helped the Wildcats prove this as well.

While countless starters were out under COVID-19 protocol, poor performance was no excuse as Arizona managed to embarrass the Bears and steal a win right out from under the blue and gold.

Maria Khan covers football. Contact her at [email protected].