By Morris Phillips
College football games aren’t normally this complicated.
But to introduce some historical perspective, college football bowl games have been known to get tricky, with the meeting of Horned Frogs and Bears at Chase Field in Phoenix on Wednesday clearly fitting that bill.
No football game should have more in-game storylines than points scored, but this one did, a 10-7 season-ending, overtime loss for the Cal Bears to TCU in which there were nine interceptions for the teams combined.
Three of the four quarterbacks to see action threw multiple picks (and looked bad in doing so), Cal’s Jaylinn Hawkins intercepted three balls, TCU used two place kickers to ultimately yield one made field goal, and Cal’s Steven Coutts punted nine times.
Also, Patrick Laird, the Bears’ indispensable running back carried the ball seven times then spent the remainder of the game on the sideline injured.
For starting TCU quarterback Grayson Muehlstein, who had four of his balls picked, missed on 13 of his 17 pass attempts and was briefly benched only to end the game as a decoy limited by injury, things couldn’t have deteriorated any faster. But Muhlstein was a winner when Jonathan Song connected on a 27-yard field goal in the first overtime to end it.
“Turned the ball over way too many times, but we managed to just hang in there and just keep fighting,” Muhlstein said afterwards.
The Bears played great defense as always led by prolific tacklers Evan Weaver and Jordan Kunaszyk, but simply made too many mistakes on offense. The Bears would finish with a meager 160 yards passing, but that came loaded down with 17 incompletions and five interceptions. The fifth, thrown in overtime by seldom-used, fifth year senior Chase Forrest was returned 84 yards by TCU’s Juwaun Johnson, as big a play as possible in overtime without ending the game immediately.
“We just made too many mistakes during the game to win against a quality opponent like that,” said Cal coach Justin Wilcox.
And somehow, after Johnson’s mega-return didn’t end up as a game-winning touchdown thanks to 330-pound Jake Curhan running nearly 100 yards to push Johnson out of bounds, the Horned Frogs would need to run 10 more plays to set up Song’s game-winning field goal.
Ten plays. How’s that?
Well, first off nimble-footed TCU sports information director Mark Cohen stepped on to the field and promptly fell on his face, his sideline celebration 50 yards behind Johnson’s big return drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“Have you guys ever known that, in 150 years of football that the SID gets a penalty?” TCU coach Gary Patterson asked.
Eight plays later–all runs for five yards or less, except one (eight yard gain)–the Horned Frogs felt they had drawn close enough to attempt a game-winning field goal.
But an attempt by which kicker?
Song converted TCU’s extra-point after Sewo Olonilua’s one-yard touchdown run tied the game in the third quarter. But with TCU in position to kick a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, and after a Cal timeout, Patterson pulled Song for backup Cole Bunce.
Bunce then missed a 44-yard attempt as time expired.
In overtime, and again after a Cal timeout. Patterson stuck with Song and he converted from 27 yards.
Olonilua was named the game’s MVP after he rushed for 194 yards including the game-tying touchdown from two yards that was initially ruled down at the one-yard line.
Chase Garbers led Cal to a first quarter score culminating with his four-yard run. But despite completing 12 of 19 passes, Garbers was benched at halftime after throwing three interceptions.
The Bears would go the final three quarters and overtime without scoring another point.