Cal comes closer, but leaves more disappointed after eighth straight Big Game loss

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November 18, 2017: Stanford Cardinal quarterback K.J. Costello (3) is sacked during a NCAA Football game between the California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal at the Stanford Stadium in Stanford, California. Valerie Shoaps/CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

By Morris Phillips

The losses to Stanford–now eight and counting–are difficult enough to process for the Cal Bears. But the latest one, both close and winnable, hurt that much more.

Stanford squeezed past Cal, 17-14, in the 120th Big Game Saturday night, and this time it was a hard fought ball game essentially decided when Ross Bowers was intercepted by Ben Edwards on a deep pass attempt to Jeremiah Hawkins that would have setup Cal with first-and-goal with 7:25 remaining. Stanford would go on a lengthy drive and exhaust the clock, winning by only three, when six of the previous seven Big Games were won by the Cardinal by at least 13 points.

“We played to win and we had our opportunities and that’s why this one hurts so much,” coach Justin Wilcox said of his Bears. “There’s a few plays here or there, both sides of the ball, that could have changed the outcome of that game.”

Undeniably, Wilcox had the Bears well prepared. Cal neutralized Heisman trophy candidate Bryce Love, fed standout Stanford defensive lineman Harrison Phillips a steady diet of double teams, and played efficiently and methodically on offense with Ross Bowers and feature back Patrick Laird. But in the end 14 points wasn’t enough for Cal to lead at any point, or impact a scoreless, fourth quarter.

“We knew each and every possession would be so critical. And we had some opportunities to get some stops in the first half and, obviously, the fourth quarter got to be able to get off the field there and get the offense the ball back,” Wilcox said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love our guys and the way they compete. They played hard, played their butts off, and we just needed another play here or there, and we didn’t quite have it.”

A missed 47-yard Matt Anderson field goal before halftime stood out because the ball careened backwards off the cross bar, but this time Cal had numerous chances when previous Big Games in the Stanford streak were basically decided by halftime. That Cal failed to secure bowl eligibility with a win made the proceedings that more agonizing.

“We just needed another play here or there,” Wilcox said.

The Bears finish the regular season at UCLA on Friday with a chance to even their record (5-6, 2-6). Stanford finishes their regular season at home against Notre Dame on Saturday. The Cardinal (8-3, 7-2) can qualify for the Pac-12 Championship Game on December 1 if Washington defeats Washington State on Saturday.

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