Cal brings the Axe back to Berkeley, defeats Stanford 24-20

from sfgate.com; California running back Christopher Brown Jr. (34) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Stanford during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019 in Stanford, Calif.

By Jeremy Harness

STANFORD – Shortly after 4pm PST, Stanford Stadium became a sea of navy blue and yellow, a sight that had not been seen in a very long time.

Considering the fact that Cal has not won the Big Game since 2009, it’s easy to understand the excitement of the Golden Bear students, fans and alumni after a dramatic 24-20 win over Stanford in the 122nd playing of this rivalry game.

After Stanford took a 20-17 lead on Ryan Sanborn’s 44-yard field goal with 2:23 remaining, sophomore quarterback Chase Garbers led the Cal offense down the field and capped the 75-yard drive when he escaped the pocket and beat the Stanford defense to the corner of the end zone.

Cal’s defense then stopped Stanford cold on fourth-and-one on the ensuing possession to secure a monumental win for the Cal football program, which had not have much to cheer about for the past decade until this season.

“To get a win, to get the Axe back and what that means for the players and our institution, it’s a big deal,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “It’s huge for our program, for the development of our program.”

Garbers, who has suffered assorted injuries this year – including a separated shoulder that sidelined him for much of this season – and was just cleared to return to the field a few days ago – completed 20 of his 30 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown.

He did more damage with his feet, as he also led the Golden Bears with 72 rushing yards, including the game-winning scamper.

“This was Chase Garbers’ game,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We couldn’t stop him. He makes a difference in the games he plays in, with his legs.

“We missed about three sacks today,” he continued. “You can’t win games if you let the quarterback out like that.”

The play of Nikko Remigio, Cal’s leading receiver, also proved to be crucial down the stretch. He caught nine passes for 157 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown.

Saturday was a fatal blow to Stanford, not only in losing the Stanford Axe but also to their chances of getting into a postseason bowl game for the 11th straight year. The Cardinal (4-7, 3-6 Pac-12) needed to win Saturday’s game, as well as its final game is against none other than No. 16 Notre Dame next Saturday.

“There should be some pain involved,” Shaw said. “I feel bad for our seniors. I feel like we let our seniors down. It’s something that we’re going to have to live with for 364 days.”

Cal (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12), on the other hand, became bowl eligible with Saturday’s win, and have done so in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008-09.

In the first two minutes of the game, it appeared that Stanford would not have much of an issue, particularly after the Cal secondary blew its zone coverage on the left side of the field and allowed junior quarterback Davis Mills to find an uncovered Donald Stewart to catch a 40-yard touchdown to give Stanford an early 7-0 lead.

Mills started out sharp, as he completed 16 of his 19 throws for 183 yards and that early touchdown. He finished with 283 yards on 26-of-35 passing, but he was intercepted twice early in the second half, and that seemed to slow down the Cardinal attack significantly.

Cal had an answer late in the first quarter, as the Golden Bears drove 90 yards. Christopher Brown, Jr. punctuated things with a 7-yard touchdown run to tie the game.

After the two teams traded field goals, the Golden Bears got the ball late in the second quarter and proceeded to convert a pair of long third downs. The drive came to a screeching halt when a pass from Garbers to receiver Jordan Duncan, which would have put the ball at Stanford’s 2-yard line, was called back by a holding penalty.

Stanford’s defense eventually held, and when Jovan Swann blocked the ensuing field-goal attempt, the two teams went into their respective locker rooms at halftime tied at 10-10.

The Cardinal defense tightened up again to start the second half and gave the offense a short field late in the third quarter. The Cardinal marched down the field and took a 17-10 lead when Cameron Scarlett went horizontal for a 1-yard touchdown plunge and stayed that way for a moment, as one of his offensive linemen ended up holding him like a groom holding a bride.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Cal got its offense back on track, with receiver Nikko Remigio being the key. Remigio got behind the Cardinal defense for a 40-yard hookup, and three plays later, Garbers found him in the back of the end zone to even the score.

The Cardinal then took the ball and came within inches of a touchdown when Mills’ pass was a bit too high for tight end Colby Parkinson in the back of the end zone. The Cardinal settled for Sanborn’s field goal before Garbers’ heroics on the ensuing drive.

“It’s awesome,” senior linebacker Evan Weaver said. “It would have been (nice) to do it in Berkeley, but to do it here, it’s even better. Just to take it away from them on their field, and to see all those sad fans, it’s perfect.”

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