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Cal Ends Difficult Football Season with 24-14 Home Win Against USC
Golden Bears hadn't beat rivals USC and Stanford in the same season since 2003
The California Golden Bears (5-7, 4-5 Pac-12) closed out a challenging college football season with a 24-14 win over a depleted USC Trojans (4-8, 3-6 Pac-12) team.
Just like their season, the rivalry game, which finished 48 minutes before midnight in Berkeley, Calif., was drama-packed.
Notably, USC’s lame-duck coaching staff appeared to be without one-third or more of its typical 100-plus roster. The Trojans started first-year quarterback Jaxson Dart for the third time and played their third-string play-caller Miller Moss in the fourth quarter.
With 2:20 left in the third quarter, California inside linebacker Femi Oladejo and cornerback Josh Drayden sandwiched Dart. The quarterback was slow to get up after the play and was helped off the field by USC staff. The staff decided to keep him sidelined, taking away his helmet a few minutes later.
Despite missing a leader of its offense, the Trojans still managed to outgain the Golden Bears in total yards, 409 to 265, and earn nearly twice as many first downs, 25 to 13.
“We didn’t have the ball a lot,” California head coach Justin Wilcox said in the post-game press conference. “Really, in the first half, there was a limited number of possessions, and second half, we didn’t get a lot going in the third quarter offensively, kind of stubbed our toe a couple of times.”
Indeed, California’s defense made the first victory at home against the USC Trojans since 2003 possible.
The Golden Bears forced two turnovers, which led to 13 points, the difference when the offense could only score two touchdowns—both from running back Christopher Brooks.
California’s first turnover came in the second quarter on a USC run play on third down and two. Safety Elijah Hicks forced a fumble as he tackled Trojan halfback Darwin Barlow, setting up inside linebacker Trey Paster for a 55-yard scoop and score along the sidelines.
In the post-game press conference, Paster noted fumble recoveries were a point of emphasis in practices.
“Just put what I’ve learned in practice in the play and just try to make a play I saw, and no one was really around me,” the Golden Bear defender explained. “Whenever Defense gets the ball, we need to score.”
The fumble return for a touchdown put the Golden Bears up 17-7 at halftime. California’s last scoop-and-score was against Washington State, a 26-yard touchdown scored by inside linebacker Gerran Brown on Oct. 13, 2017.
The second turnover proved to be pivotal. Coach Wilcox told reporters he believed it allowed his side to ice the game.
With a little under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, cornerback Lu-Magia Hearns III recovered a fumble after Moss coughed up the ball on a Daniel Scott 27-yard sack.
“The key drive there, after the fumble... I think we had three or four plays that were first down, first down, first down, first down, right in a row,” Coach Wilcox recalled. “And then, Chris[topher Brooks] put it in—a key drive in the game.”
Brooks’ second score of the night in the next drive extended the home team’s lead to 24-7.
The California Golden Bears will likely wonder what could have been, as they miss out on a post-season bowl game. Coach Wilcox’s team won only one of its first six games, losing four by seven points or fewer, including at Oregon, which represented the North division against the now-Rose Bowl-bound Utah Utes in the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game on Friday.
California fans may find solace in triumphing over rivals USC and Stanford in the same season for the first time since 2003.
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