BERKELEY, Calif. (AP)—California cornerback Marc Anthony scored on a 61-yard interception return in the fourth quarter and the Golden Bears shook off another sluggish start at home to beat Southern Utah 50-31 on Saturday.
Keenan Allen had two touchdowns, one on a 69-yard punt return, to help the Bears notch their first victory at newly renovated Memorial Stadium.
A week after losing the home-opener to Nevada, Cal (1-1) had 518 yards of offense but couldn’t shake Southern Utah, an FCS school playing its first season in the Big Sky Conference, until the fourth quarter when the Bears forced two turnovers and scored 30 points.
Anthony, who tipped a Hail Mary pass the Thunderbirds converted into a touchdown just before halftime, made the biggest play after Southern Utah receiver Henna Brown appeared to run the wrong route on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Brad Sorensen threw a short pass intended for Brown, who kept running while Anthony turned to make the interception. Anthony then worked his way downfield into the end zone to help give Cal a 34-17 lead.
The Bears piled on quickly after that.
Allen, who caught a 19-yard touchdown from quarterback Zach Maynard on the first play of the fourth quarter, made it 44-17 with a long punt return. Allen fumbled the ball but recovered it then broke free down the right sideline on his way into the end zone.
Maynard, making his first start of the season after being benched for the first three series in the loss to Nevada, completed 17 of 23 attempts for 229 yards and the touchdown to Allen.
Two big mistakes by the Bears defense—and an outstanding one-handed catch by the Thunderbirds’ Cameron Morgan—kept the game from being a total blowout before halftime.
Sorensen’s Hail Mary pass in the end zone as time expired fell incomplete, but Cal defensive back Steve Williams was called for pass interference, giving the Thunderbirds an extra play. Sorensen then heaved another long pass that Morgan pulled in for a 37-yard touchdown. Anthony tipped the ball in the air but Morgan alertly grabbed it with his left hand as he was falling out of the back of the end zone for the score.
That was one of the few things that went right for Southern Utah.
Sorensen, a preseason candidate for the Walter Payton Award, passed for 292 yards and four touchdowns to become the school’s career leader, though most of it came in the second half after Cal built a substantial lead.
It was a much better finish for the Bears, who fell behind early for the second consecutive week.
They committed turnovers inside their own territory on consecutive drives in the first quarter and had 10 penalties for 96 yards before halftime.
This time, Cal overcame its mistakes.
Maynard was intercepted by Southern Utah defensive end James Crowser while attempting a screen pass in the first quarter, then freshman wide receiver Chris Harper fumbled away the Bears next possession following a short completion.
Southern Utah (0-2) had its own issues on offense and couldn’t take advantage of the good field position.
The Thunderbirds took a 3-0 lead on Colton Cook’s 40-yard field goal then spent the rest of the afternoon playing from behind.
Cal scored on four consecutive possessions in the second quarter to go in front.
Anderson’s 7-yard touchdown run capped a 94-yard drive for the Bears, Sofele scored on a 12-yard run and D’Amato added a pair of field goals to give Cal a 20-3 lead.
Southern Utah stayed close and pulled within 20-17 midway through the third quarter on Sorensen’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Brown, but the Thunderbirds couldn’t slow Cal down in the fourth.
Sofele finished with 104 yards on 19 carries.
NOTES: The Bears are 6-0 against FCS teams. … Southern Utah won the coin toss but deferred. … Cal played without starting right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin, who injured his knee late in the loss to Nevada.