By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–At some point, the Cal Bears went from hanging around to hanging touchdowns.
And at some point, the Washington Huskies went from being lulled to sleep to no lull at all.
Cal’s 28-21 loss to the visiting Huskies was a strange affair. But college football games often are strange. Only winning makes them more familiar.
Cal’s biggest misgiving on a Saturday night in which their offensive showed up late, and their defense departed early? It’s okay to be fashionably late if you can fashion together a win.
“We played some good football in stretches in the game, but we lost so that sucks obviously,” said linebacker Jackson Sirmon, who led Cal with 11 tackles.
“I thought our players gave us everything they had,” coach Justin Wilcox said. “In the first half we didn’t get quite enough going on offense. In the second half, we needed one more stop… somewhere. And we didn’t get it done. They’re a good team. That’s the bottom line.”
The Huskies piled up the yardage as their offense has done all season with an average of 528 yards per game coming in. But in a 245-yard first half, Washington came away with just two field goals and a 6-0 lead. Quarterback Michael Penix saw a couple of his early passes dropped. A curious decision by Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer to attempt a field goal when his offense faced a 4th-and-3 at Cal’s 18-yard line preceded Peyton Henry’s second field goal.
A conservative Huskies offense? Yes, in part. Previously DeBoer had attempted fourth down conversions 19 times in seven games, making them one of the most, aggressive attacks in the nation. But with Cal sputtering on offense–just 83 yards in the first half–Washington took what it was easily afforded.
The Bears announced after the game that standout, offensive tackle Michael Cindric will miss the remainder of the season saying only that he’ll require surgery in advance of next season. His absence prompted a second, reshuffling of Cal’s offensive line in less than a month. That essentially cost Cal’s offense early as they rushed for just five yards and saw Jack Plummer take a pair of damaging sacks that killed Cal drives.
Plummer gamely came out firing in the second half, marching Cal to a 7-6 lead after he connected with J. Michael Sturdivant on a 8-yard touchdown pass. Immediately, Plummer had Jadyn Ott and Mason Starling (starting in place of the injured Jeremiah Hunter) engaged as well.
Five minutes into the second half, the Bears had the lead and momentum. The Huskies were left to answer for their porous, secondary that was thrown on repeatedly in losses to UCLA and Arizona State. And they responded behind Penix, the national leader in passing yardage.
Washington’s 11-play drive capped by Cameron Davis’ 6-yard run to the end zone, and the ensuing two-point conversion with Penix throwing to Ja’Lynn Polk restored a 14-7 lead for the visitors.
Penix would add a pair of touchdown passes early in the fourth. His 36-yard completion to Richard Newton put the Huskies in control, leading 28-14 with 10:19 remaining.
Down two touchdowns, Cal didn’t go away. They put together a 12-play drive that was crystallized by Mavin Anderson’s leaping, touchdown catch on 4th-and-7. Anderson also contributed a 34-yard catch on the drive that brought Cal within 28-21 with 6:11 remaining.
Plummer finished 21 of 34, 245 yards passing and three touchdowns. But his last gasp attempt at a game-tying score died with an incomplete pass at the Washington 42-yard line with 28 seconds left.
“There’s a lot of belief, and we keep fighting,” DeBoer said of his Huskies (6-2). “And most importantly, we just need to keep getting better. And when you really try to narrow it down, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture. Just get better”
The Bears (3-4) face another high-scoring opponent in Oregon on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.