De­spite de­feat, Cal’s Ku­naszyk ‘just so grate­ful’

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - 121ST BIG GAME - By Rusty Sim­mons Rusty Sim­mons is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: rsim­[email protected]­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @Rusty_SFChron

Se­nior inside line­backer Jor­dan Ku­naszyk was the last Cal player on the field Satur­day af­ter­noon, find­ing it hard to walk off the field at Memo­rial Sta­dium fol­low­ing the Bears’ 23-13 loss to Stan­ford in the 121st Big Game.

Dozens of his team­mates stopped for long em­braces with their cap­tain as he stood at the 25-yard line and forced him­self to watch the Car­di­nal play­ers cel­e­brate with the Axe for the ninth straight year.

Ku­naszyk might still be stand­ing in the end zone clos­est to the north tun­nel if strength and con­di­tion­ing coach Torre Bec­ton hadn’t re­turned long af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle to shep­herd him to the locker room.

“I was just soak­ing up my last time play­ing in Memo­rial Sta­dium. I was tak­ing it all in,” Ku­naszyk said. “It didn’t end the way I wanted it to, ob­vi­ously, but I’m just so grate­ful for my ex­pe­ri­ences at Cal and my ex­pe­ri­ences at Memo­rial Sta­dium. … I just kind of wanted to take a step back and be grate­ful for that and thank God for the op­por­tu­nity of get­ting to play here at Cal and get­ting to play at Memo­rial Sta­dium for this univer­sity that I love so much.”

Like the other 23 Cal se­niors, Ku­naszyk des­per­ately wanted to be the class that ended the ri­valry’s long­est los­ing skid.

He was the heart of a de­fense that lim­ited a Stan­ford of­fense av­er­ag­ing 39.5 points per game in the past month to 23, seven of which came on a 3-yard drive af­ter a fourth-quar­ter in­ter­cep­tion by Paul­son Adebo.

Ku­naszyk was the soul of a de­fense that held Bryce Love to 74 rush­ing yards and the player who forced last season’s Heis­man run­ner-up to fum­ble at the Car­di­nal 23-yard line. A touch­down would have tied the game 13-13 in the fourth quar­ter, but the of­fense gained only 5 yards, and Greg Thomas missed a 39-yard field-goal at­tempt.

“We wanted it re­ally badly. Th­ese se­niors haven’t beat Stan­ford, so our goal was to send them out with that W,” said quar­ter­back Chase Gar­bers, who com­pleted 22 of 39 passes for 197 yards but threw two in­ter­cep­tions. “Us un­der­class­men failed in that as­pect.”

Head coach Justin Wil­cox said: “It means as much to Jor­dan as it does to any­body in our pro­gram. He puts so much into it and is such a great leader for us, and he just cares. I love him for it. I wish could have done more to help him and the rest of the guys.”

Ku­naszyk and inside line­backer Evan Weaver com­bined for 20 tack­les against Stan­ford, set­ting the school’s sin­gle-season mark for tack­les by a duo (276). Steve Hen­drick­son and David Ortega had 266 in 1988.

Weaver’s 143 tack­les rank fourth on Cal’ssea­son list, and Ku­naszyk’s 133 are tied with Jer­rott Wil­liard’s 1992 to­tal.

The fans are tak­ing no­tice. A season-best 57,857 braved sloppy con­di­tions for a game that was post­poned two weeks ago be­cause of poor air qual­ity due to the wild­fires in Butte County.

“It was un­be­liev­able,” Ku­naszyk said of the largest Big Game crowd in Straw­berry Canyon since 2012. “A cou­ple times dur­ing the game, I just looked around and thought: ‘Wow. It’s amaz­ing to have the sup­port we have here.’ I feel re­ally bad that we weren’t able to get the win for the fan base, but at the end of the day, we played as hard as we could. … Un­for­tu­nately, I won’t

be here next year, but I prom­ise the Axe will be com­ing back to Berke­ley soon.”

San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

Cal lineback­ers Evan Weaver (left), a ju­nior, and Jor­dan Ku­naszyk, a se­nior, com­bined for 20 tack­les against Stan­ford.

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