9th straight win in series helps with bowl position
For the second year in a row, the Big Game was mainly a defensive struggle. And for the ninth year in a row, Stanford came out on top.
It was probably fitting that the most spectacular play of the 121st Big Game was by a defensive player — Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo’s diving, one-handed interception in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
Stanford’s 23-13 win over Cal before a crowd of 57,858 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday allowed the Cardinal to finish the regular season with three straight wins.
After his acrobatic interception, Adebo applied the haymaker, a second interception off Cal quarterback Chase Garbers. Adebo’s 43yard return set up an insurance touchdown with 2:27 left. The Bears scored their only touchdown with 10 seconds left.
In a season that’s been marked by numerous
injuries and three close losses, the Cardinal (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) are headed to an undetermined bowl game on a roll.
Adebo, who received the game ball from head coach David Shaw in the locker room, said of the one-handed catch, “Bar none, it’s probably the best catch I’ve had in a game.”
Wide receiver JJ ArcegaWhiteside said he’s seen many acrobatic catches from the redshirt freshman during and after practice.
“For 20 or 30 minutes after practice, he’s there practicing those catches,” he said. “We knew eventually one of them was going to happen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an interception that crazy before.”
Shaw called the pick “phenomenal. You won’t find a better one in football.”
Shaw likened Adebo to former Cardinal Christian McCaffrey in that he doesn’t celebrate after big plays. “He just wants to get back in the huddle,” he said. “He’s got length, he’s got speed, he’s got athleticism, and he’s very, very coachable.”
Although the Bears (7-5, 4-5) are headed to a bowl game, too, this defeat stung, head coach Justin Wilcox said.
“It’s a tough one, because everybody just feels kicked in the gut,” said Wilcox, who made a point of circling the postgame locker room and shaking each player’s hand. “I respect our team for how hard they play and how hard they prepare. They’re an unbelievably coachable group. I love them for that.”
Backup tailback Cameron Scarlett scored both of Stanford’s touchdowns. He took a screen pass from quarterback K.J. Costello 46 yards in the first quarter and ran 3 yards for a touchdown after Adebo’s long return in the final minutes.
Jumping to a 10-0 lead was a little out of character for the Cardinal, Scarlett said.
“We struggled this year on starting fast,” he said. “The emphasis over the last three, four weeks has been to make sure we got out to a fast start and carry the moment from there.”
Jet Toner kicked three field goals for Stanford. Cal got two field goals from Greg Thomas but didn’t score a touchdown until Garbers threw an 11-yard pass to Jordan Duncan in the closing seconds.
Patrick Laird provided Cal’s biggest play, a 62-yard run, although the Bears got only a field goal out of it. He rushed for 116 yards on 19 carries, becoming the seventh tailback to rush for at least 100 yards this season against Stanford.
The Bears continued their yearlong struggles on offense, although they outgained the Cardinal 352-329. But a defense led by linebacker Evan Weaver’s 15 tackles helped keep Stanford at bay most of the day.
“They were really good last year (in Stanford’s 17-14 win),” Shaw said, “and this year they seemed to be just a hair better in every respect — better against the run, better against the pass. They’re big, long and physical, and so well coached.”
The game was postponed from Nov. 17 as a result of smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County. Tailgaters at the 121st edition of the game enjoyed the noon start, as opposed to the original kickoff time of 4 p.m. There were many empty seats in the Stanford portion of the stands, and the Cal supporters were in full throat after the Bears cut the lead to 10-6 and were on the move in the final minutes of the first half.
The momentum stopped when Malik McMorris, Cal’s bruising, 290-pound fullback, fumbled and Stanford’s Sean Barton recovered near midfield.
“Malik (Antoine) was on the tackle, and I was the second man in, reaching for the ball,” said Bobby Okereke, who led the Cardinal with 13 tackles.
“It was nice to get bragging rights,” the senior said. “We never lost to Cal.”
Cal’s Jordan Duncan misses a would-be TD catch in the first half. Stanford led 13-6 at halftime.