The Stanford Cardinal (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) defeated the California Golden Bears (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) 23-13 to claim its ninth consecutive victory, keeping possession of the Stanford Axe in the 121st Big Game Saturday afternoon.
As expected, defense was the name of the game. Much to everyone’s surprise, California’s vaunted defense did not make the scoreline. Instead, it was the Cardinal which relied on its defense.
Sophomore cornerback Paulson Adebo’s two interceptions in the fourth quarter put any chance of a late comeback out of reach for the Bears. Adebo’s second interception — a one-handed pick — set up a three-yard touchdown for senior running back Cameron Scarlett to make it 23-6.
“It’s just who he is. He’s got length, he’s got speed, he’s got athleticism, and he’s very, very coachable,” Stanford Head Coach David Shaw said after the game. “He makes a big play, and he doesn’t celebrate, he just wants to get back in the huddle.”
California scored its sole touchdown — an 11-yard pass to Jordan Duncan late in the fourth quarter — to prevent the final score from appearing lopsided. The scoring pass from freshman quarterback Chase Garbers left only nine seconds in regulation — too little too late.
Stanford rolled in the first quarter. The Cardinal scored on its first two drives and forced punts on California’s early possessions. Draining six minutes, Stanford kicker Jet Toner converted a 26-yard field goal to draw first blood with a chip-shot. Toner’s scoring effort was followed by a 46-yard touchdown pass to Scarlett from K.J. Costello just three minutes later.
“Stanford is a really good offense,” California Head Coach Justin Wilcox noted plainly in the post-game press conference. “First and second down for them, they were ahead of schedule, and that makes it really difficult.”
In an unintentional homage to the Pacific-12 Conference Championship Game Friday night, no offensive touchdowns were scored in the second quarter. Golden Bear placekicker Greg Thomas converted from 40 and 24-yards, the latter score his sixth consecutive field goal. Not to be outdone, Toner tipped in a 19-yard kick to keep the game 13-6 at the half.
Worse still, neither Stanford nor California scored in the third quarter — a period where both sides punted the ball six times — a total of three each.
A constant throughout the Big Game was California’s inability to capitalize on its defense. After an early fourth quarter interception by Garbers, senior linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk bailed out his offense’s mistake by forcing a Bryce Love fumble. Yet, the ensuing possession resulted in only a failed Golden Bear 21-yard field goal.
“Each and every week we are trying to improve, and that means winning. At the end of the day, it means winning,” said Coach Wilcox. “I’m confident in the group of people we have on and off the field, and I’m excited to keep coaching these guys through the bowl game.”