BERKELEY, Calif. (AP)—Although that bitter wind out of Strawberry Canyon was the most dynamic force on the field, California still found more than enough ways to knock off Stanford one more time.
Nate Longshore passed for 217 yards and the 21st-ranked Golden Bears persevered through the chill and the Cardinal for a 26-17 victory in the 109th Big Game on Saturday.
As the Cal seniors celebrated playing their entire careers without a loss to their archrivals, not even the disappointments of the Bears’ previous two games could bring down the mood at Memorial Stadium. Students rushed the field with nearly the same fervor they showed four years earlier, when coach Jeff Tedford’s streak of five straight wins over Stanford began.
Cal (9-3, 7-2 Pac-10) even earned a share of its first conference championship since 1975 when No. 2 USC was knocked off by UCLA shortly afterward. The Bears also completed an unbeaten seven-game home schedule and won seven conference games for just the third time in school history.
Sure, the Bears expect more from themselves than this lackluster win, but any victory over Stanford is reason for massive celebrations in Berkeley.
“People can say whatever they want, but 9-3 and undefeated at home, that’s unprecedented at Cal in recent memory,” tackle Andrew Cameron said. “We’re proud of everything we’ve done. Once people can look back at this season, they’ll see how special it was.”
Justin Forsett had 67 of his 75 yards rushing in the fourth quarter as the Golden Bears barely did enough to beat the Cardinal (1-11, 1-8).
Tom Schneider kicked four field goals and DeSean Jackson caught seven passes for 127 yards for Cal, which hasn’t lost a Big Game since coach Tedford’s arrival in 2002. The Bears had lost seven straight to the Cardinal before the Tedford era, but now have maintained possession of The Axe during their longest winning streak in the series since the 1920s.
“We were disappointed in what happened the last two weeks, but there’s no way you can be disappointed today,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “We took the best shot they gave all year and still came out on top.”
Syd’Quan Thompson returned a fumble 15 yards for a second-quarter touchdown as Cal set a single-season attendance record for Memorial Stadium. Despite losing its previous two games to Arizona and USC in disheartening fashion, Cal is headed to the Holiday Bowl to play Texas A&M on Dec. 28.
Evan Moore and Richard Sherman caught TD passes from T.C. Ostrander for the Cardinal, who scored more than one offensive touchdown for just the second time in their miserable season. Coach Walt Harris will meet with athletic director Bob Bowlsby on Monday morning to discuss his future, but a fairly solid performance couldn’t hurt his chances of keeping his job.
“We played as hard as we’ve played this year and as well as we’ve played this year, and (still) lost the Big Game,” Harris said. “I can’t worry about anything else right now.”
But both teams were limited offensively by the whipping gales throughout the afternoon, turning an otherwise sunny day into a survival experience. Neither team could throw long passes effectively until the second half, and Stanford managed just one first-half touchdown despite controlling the ball for more than 20 minutes.
“Memorial Stadium is such a goofy stadium,” said Schneider, who tied the school record with a 55-yarder in the first quarter. “The wind changes from second to second. It’s best not to think about it.”
Cal led 13-3 when Thompson picked up Ostrander’s fumble and rolled into the end zone 2 1/2 minutes before halftime, but Marcus McCutcheon returned the ensuing kickoff 68 yards. Sherman slipped inside the defense and caught an 8-yard TD pass moments later.
“We gave up too many touchdowns to a below-average offense,” Cal linebacker Zack Follett said.
Lavelle Hawkins caught a 32-yard TD pass on Cal’s first drive of the second half, but Moore got the Cardinal back in it with a remarkable effort on a long pass down the Cal sideline. Moore separated himself from defensive back Thomas DeCoud with one hand and caught the pass with the other, falling into the end zone with a 51-yard TD.
“That was a great effort by a team that was obviously against all odds,” Moore said. “I just respect the seniors so much for coming out and giving it up. It’s not a secret that we had nothing to play for.”
But neither team summoned any magic in the fourth quarter of a game most famous for Cal’s game-ending, five-lateral kickoff return in the 1982 edition.
Stanford linebacker Michael Okwo forced Marshawn Lynch to fumble at the Cal 14 with 13 1/2 minutes to play, but Aaron Zagory missed a short field goal. Stanford never seriously threatened to score again, and Schneider added one more field goal in the final minutes.
Lynch rushed for just 67 yards in what was probably the Pac-10 rushing leader’s final home game before heading to the NFL. Tedford will discuss Lynch’s future plans with the running back, possibly before the Holiday Bowl.