9th straight win in se­ries helps with bowl position

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - SPORTING GREEN - By Tom FitzGer­ald

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.”

San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

Cal’s Jor­dan Dun­can misses a would-be TD catch in the first half. Stan­ford led 13-6 at half­time.

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