Cal Football Drops 123rd Big Game to Stanford Cardinal

Golden Bears are still without a win this season

California inside linebacker Kuony Deng had a game-high 14 tackles in the 123rd Big Game. (Photo Courtesy: Cal Athletics via Al Sermeno/KLC fotos)

The California Golden Bears (0-3) dropped a 23-24 decision to the Stanford Cardinal (1-2), losing the Stanford Axe to their archrivals Friday. California’s one-point defeat is the 56th Big Game decided by seven points or fewer in the rivalry.

And dropped is the word of the day this 123rd Big Game, as the Golden Bears looked to be the better side.

While the Golden Bears outgained the Cardinal in yards (392 to 300) and first downs (20 to 16), miscues on defense and special teams cost California Head Coach Justin Wilcox’s side the game.

With 58 seconds left in the game, redshirt sophomore Dario Longhetto had his point-after attempt blocked after a three-yard rushing touchdown from running back Christopher Brown, Jr.

Stanford overloaded Longhetto’s right-hand side and overpowered California’s line to make the game-deciding big play.

After the game, Coach Wilcox called his special teams’ mistakes “unacceptable,” adding they are critical issues he intends to fix in the coming week.

But the Cardinal also benefited from Will Craig, Jake Curhan and Valentino Daltoso’s absences, as the three offensive line starters were out for the second game in a row because of a positive Covid-19 case on the offensive line and subsequent contact tracing.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has heavily impacted California’s season.

California has had to cancel two games already, including its season-opener at home against the Washington Huskies after a Golden Bear on the defensive line tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Later, the Golden Bears had an away match-up against Arizona State canceled after the Sun Devils failed to field a competitive team after its positive cases and resulting contact-tracing protocol.

Notably, the 123rd Big Game played in Berkeley, Calif., was California’s first home game in Memorial Stadium this season. The Golden Bears have gone 377 days since its last home game, which was against the USC Trojans on Nov. 16, 2019.

California must also work on its turnovers, which proved costly. Stanford scored 14 points unanswered from two turnovers, including a muffed punt by California wide receiver Nikko Remigio in the first half and Marcel Dancy’s fumble that gave Stanford a 17-10 lead in the third quarter.

As Stanford Head Coach David Shaw is wont to do, the Cardinal then ate away at the clock, winning the time of possession with more than 34 minutes consumed. His side often benefited from short fields with an average starting position of their own 38 compared to California’s average of their own 21.

A bright side for the Golden Bears was its offense.

Golden Bear first-year running back Damien Moore, the game’s leader in rushing yards, had 121 yards in 10 attempts, including a big play of 54 yards.

Moore had a chance to shine, as Brown, Jr., was left out of most of the first half, limited to what Coach Wilcox called in the post-game press conference an “injury snap count.”

While redshirt junior Chase Garbers had a pedestrian 151 passing yards on 19 out of his 29 attempts, he connected with Kekoa Crawford and Remigio and threw no interceptions. As California fans have come to expect of the Newport Beach, Calif., native, he also extended plays and drives with his legs, ending the day with 51 rushing yards, good enough to be the team’s second-leading rusher.

California’s big plays of 20 yards or more came on the ground, as Garbers missed all four of his pass attempts of 20 yards or more.

With the defeat, California’s record against Stanford falls to 47-65-11.