Saturday’s game against Arizona State was the answer Cal fans needed following the blowout 32-59 loss at Washington. In a game defined by momentum shifts, the Bears turned up the heat to take the Sun Devils, 24-21.
Although the Cal quarterback query remains unanswered, Sam Jackson V got the starting nod against the Sun Devils. This decision came after QB counterpart Ben Finley took the starting role against the Huskies — a game in which the redshirt sophomore threw three picks and contends he “threw away.”
After the first drives ended in punts for both sides, Jackson wasted no time getting Cal on the board.
With the help of receiver Jeremiah Hunter and the onslaught of the running back room, the Bears moved downfield to collect four first-down completions, setting up an Isaiah Ifanse breakthrough into the end zone to put up the first points of the game. Kicker Mateen Bhaghani, who got the start over Michael Luckhurst, connected with a perfect shot through the posts for the extra point.
Hunter would be the only receiver for Cal to complete a catch until the final three minutes of the fourth quarter.
“Momentum is the heart of every game. Momentum and adversity are going to show up every game (in) some fashion,” said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox. “We had an opportunity to carry momentum after the score, kick the ball off, get a stop, three-and-out and get the ball back … We (have) to take the next step in those moments because that’s where those games change drastically.”
However, this lead would not last long. A Cam Skattebo score-tying touchdown on the ground quickly revitalized the Sun Devil offense, again highlighting the momentum shifts that defined this game. Skattebo would finish out the game with 98 receiving yards and 59 rushing.
At the start of the second quarter, a perfectly placed punt — after an unsuccessful drive for the Bears — by Cal’s Lachlan Wilson put the Sun Devils at the two-yard line to start their possession. The Cal defense put the clamps on the opposing offense for a quick three-and-out, leaving ASU unable to move past the three-yard line.
The Bears’ next charge started at the Sun Devils’ 42-yard line, trudging down to the 20 to set up Bhaghani’s first career field goal opportunity.
A clean snap, a good hold and a shot down the center resulted in a three-point lead for Cal, 10-7.
The Bears’ defense was the bright spot in an otherwise uneventful first half, only conceding one touchdown to the Sun Devils in six possessions.
On a head-on, helmet-to-helmet clash between inside linebacker Jackson Sirmon and a charging Skattebo — and with the help from redshirt sophomore Kaleb Elarms-Orr — ASU’s running back was brought down for no gain on fourth-and-one to force a turnover on a key stop.
After another turnover on downs — forced by the Bears — at the start of the third quarter, Jackson’s 16-yard rush put Cal in prime striking distance. Following this play, catches by Jack Endries and Hunter would prove vital, allowing Hunter to collect his fourth touchdown of the season and extend the lead to 17-7.
In his return to Memorial Stadium, former Cal kicker Dario Longhetto put one through the uprights to place the Sun Devils down by a touchdown.
A 66-yard pass to Skattebo caused a huge shift in energy in favor of ASU. After what seemed like a touchdown for the Sun Devils, a timeout by Wilcox following the play permitted more time for review — revealing an illegal substitution. The touchdown was reversed, forcing ASU to kick a field goal to bring the score to 17-13.
Continuing the momentum, Cal’s Matthew Littlejohn intercepted one of Trenton Bourguet’s passes, creating a scoring opportunity and an eventual touchdown drive by Ott. This fourth-quarter spark extended the lead to 24-13.
ASU responded with a touchdown and successful two-point conversion on a touch-pass to Elijhah Badger. Cal was ahead at 24-21 at this point in the competition.
With under three minutes to go in the fourth quarter and ASU with the ball, the Sun Devils looked to force overtime, but would ultimately come out unsuccessful.
On back-to-back key plays, Patrick McMorris displayed exceptional defensive effort and came up clutch with a block for the Bears.
This final turnover on downs put Cal on top in a narrow 24-21 victory.
Although the defense looked crisper, even more fine-tuning on both sides of the ball needs to be done to garner success and tack on more marks in the win column going forward.
“What would be good enough? (We) just left too much out on the field. That’s been the story of the season from the first game. We left so much out on the field,” Ott said. “Too many penalties, too many missed assignments. We just got to be better. I don’t know what would be good enough. But once I find out, I’ll let you know.”