Same Result in The Big Game as Stanford Cardinal Keep The Axe

Nov 12, 2016; Eugene, OR, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) celebrates his touchdown in the first quarter against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 12, 2016; Eugene, OR, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) celebrates his touchdown in the first quarter against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports /

It was another edition of The Big Game, but it came with a familiar result as the Stanford Cardinal maintain their stranglehold on The Axe.

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The rain was coming down and the day was gloomy, but nothing could damper the spirit inside California Memorial Stadium. The Big Game was on hand, and one of the best rivalries in college football continued between the Cal Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal.

The Cardinal controlled the opening kickoff, but Cal’s much-maligned defense was up to the task. They allowed just one first down when Christian McCaffrey barely snuck past the marker on a third down carry. DeVante Wilson took matters into his own hands, batting a pass away at the line before coming up with a third-down sack on Keller Chryst to get his defense off the field.

Cal’s offense also came to play. On their first play of the day, Davis Webb hit Chad Hansen on a slant and Hansen did the rest. He ran away from the defense, showing no signs of the ankle injury that has hobbled him for roughly a month, reaching the endzone 70 yards away. It was Hansen’s 10th touchdown of the year and took him over 1,000 yards on the year.

The defenses exchanged stops through the rest of the first quarter, but the Bears jumped back in front early in the second quarter. Running back Tre Watson took the handoff left and was met at about the Stanford four, but he kept pushing and forced his way into the endzone.

Stanford imposed their will at the line of scrimmage on their next offensive drive. McCaffrey had plenty of open space as he guided the Cardinal down the field, and Chryst finished it off with a touchdown pass to Dalton Schultz. Again, the two teams traded punts as neither team could really get rolling in the steady rain, but Stanford put together a nice drive right before the half. They weren’t able to punch it in, but Conrad Ukropina nailed a 40-yard field goal as time expired to make it a 17-14 Stanford lead at the break.

The Cardinal wasted no time in taking control of the second half. They forced a Cal punt, and the second offensive play saw McCaffrey take it 90 yards to the house to put his team up by 10. Cal responded with a field goal, but Stanford marched again. A 12-play drive ended with McCaffrey scoring from 11 yards out.

Cal wouldn’t go away easily, as they put together a long 13-play drive just before the fourth quarter. Watson scored for the second time, taking a draw in from eight yards out to make it 31-24. McCaffrey one-upped Watson, breaking the endzone for the third time to make it a two-possession game again. Another Stanford touchdown with 4:17 left on the clock was the final dagger. Cal scored once more on Hansen’s second touchdown grab of the day, but an unsuccessful on-side kick attempt closed the book. Stanford ran the final three minutes off the clock to clinch a 45-31 victory.

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The Axe is going nowhere, remaining with the Cardinal for the seventh straight year. During the winning streak, Stanford has outscored Cal 291 to 128. This also matches the longest winning streak in the history of the series, even with Stanford’s seven-game stretch from 1995 to 2001.

McCaffrey had a game for the ages. He set a school record by rushing for 284 yards on 31 carries, and scored three times. It was also the biggest rushing performance in Big Game history by either side.

Hansen led the way receiving, grabbing seven passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. He crossed the century mark for the sixth time this season and caught multiple touchdowns for the fourth time. He finished the day with 1,093 yards on the year. On the other side, JJ Arcega-Whiteside caught four balls for 107 yards.

Neither quarterback played particularly well in the steady rain, despite the fact that Davis Webb threw for 393 yards. A lot of his yards came from screen passes and short dump-offs. But the soaked ball made it difficult for quarterbacks and receivers, as balls slipped out of hands and cleats slipped through the mud. Chryst threw for 198 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Webb also threw a pair of scoring strikes. Surprisingly, neither man turned the ball over in the nasty conditions.

Next: Stanford and Cal Battle in 119th Big Game

Stanford not only keeps The Axe, but they have the bragging rights for knocking Cal out of bowl eligibility. With one game left, the Bears are 4-7 on the year. Stanford, on the other hand, clinched their eight straight season of at least eight wins.

Cal ends their season next week against UCLA, a team they haven’t beaten in the last three tries. Stanford hosts Rice in their regular season finale.