Cal Bears Pull Off a Massive Upset, Beating Previously Undefeated Wazzu

BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 13: Jordan Kunaszyk
BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 13: Jordan Kunaszyk /

Coming off three straight losses, the Cal Bears pulled off a massive upset by beating the previously unbeaten #8 Washington State Cougars.

Weird things are supposed to happen on Friday the 13th, and happen they did at Memorial Stadium in Berkley. In a game that was questionable to start because of poor air quality caused by the wildfires that continue to ravage California, the Cal Bears pulled off one of their biggest upsets in decades.

The Golden Bears combined a stingy, opportunistic defensive effort with a patient, steady offensive attack to thoroughly smother the Washington State Cougars, upsetting the eighth-ranked team in the country by a score of 37-3 and ending their undefeated start.

Since 1978, the Bears had only beaten one top-10 team in 54 tries. That came in 2003, when Cal needed three overtimes to knock off third-ranked USC behind backup quarterback Reggie Robertson. That monkey is off their back with this victory against Wazzu.

Cougars’ quarterback Luke Falk, an early Heisman candidate, entered the game having thrown two interceptions in 262 pass attempts. His first pass attempt on Friday resulted in his third interception when redshirt freshman Camryn Bynum jumped a route for his first career pick. Cal turned that takeaway into three points when Matt Anderson nailed a field goal from 26 yards outs.

That interception turned out to be the start of a very long night for Falk and his Wazzu teammates. Cal would pick Falk off four more times on the evening as part of a seven-takeaway effort. Bynum added his second career interception later in the first half, nabbing Falk’s pass in the redzone to cut short a Wazzu drive that looked destined for the endzone.

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Late in the first half, Cal took advantage of a mistake of a different kind from their opponents. Cougars’ punter Mitchell Cox completely shanked a punt attempt, booting it only one yard away and giving Cal the ball in Washington State territory. After a meticulous drive to get them within two yards with three seconds left to play in the half, head coach Justin Wilcox made the gutsy call.

He signaled for his men to go for it, foregoing a chance to put them ahead by 10 at the break. Instead, quarterback Ross Bowers ran the play fake and threw off his back foot. In the endzone, he found his tight end, Kyle Wells, who slid to the ground to catch his first career pass at Cal. The aggressive play call paid off, and Cal took a 17-3 lead into the locker room.

The second half was much of the same, as Cal’s defense swarmed Falk and made his night miserable. Raymond Davison III made a dazzling interception on a tipped pass, finding a way to wrap his arms around the ball inches before it hit the ground. Jordan Kunaszyk ended the next drive abruptly by making a similar play, sliding into a catch to nab a tipped ball. The fifth and final interception came from Quentin Tartabull late in the fourth quarter, putting the final nail in the coffin.

It wasn’t just interceptions for the Bears’ defense, either. Jaylinn Hawkins forced a fumble in the first half that Devante Downs recovered, and Gerran Brown recovered a fumble he forced and took it the house to make it 37-3, which would be the final score. The team also dropped Falk for nine sacks on the evening, making a strong Cougars’ offensive line look more like a sieve.

Cal experienced some adversity throughout the evening, as well. Running back Patrick Laird, the team’s leading rusher (400 yards and four touchdowns), was not suited up for Friday’s game because of an injury. Combine that with Tre Watson‘s knee injury suffered earlier in the season, and that left senior Vic Enwere to shoulder the load. He did just that, rushing for a season-high 102 yards on 22 carries while also scoring one of his signature power touchdowns, bulldozing his way through a couple Wazzu defenders to hit pay dirt.

Downs missed the second half of the game after suffering an injury in the first half. He left big shoes to fill, as a two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week and one of the conference’s premier linebackers, but Kunaszyk filled in more than admirably. He racked up 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks worth 31 yards, while also forcing a fumble and picking off his second interception of the season.

Bowers had one of the plays of the day in the second half, scoring a jaw-dropping touchdown early in the fourth quarter. On third-and-goal from the Cougars’ seven-yard line, Bowers dropped back to pass but found nowhere to throw the ball, tucking and run up the middle. He left his feet at the two-yard line, and flipped over a Wazzu defender to score one of the most impressive touchdowns of the year.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback finished the day 21-of-38 for 259 yards and a touchdown. It was his most promising effort in weeks, putting some bad outings behind him by making smart, precise throws to keep drives alive and move the ball efficiently. Getting receiver Kanawai Noa back on the field help, as he caught six passes for 95 yards after missing the Washington Huskies games because of injury.

Next: Bowers Not Perfect, But Impressive in First Start

The Bears are back on track to be Bowl eligible after losing three straight games following three consecutive wins to open the season. They sit at 4-3 now, and will stay home to host the Arizona Wildcats next Saturday. Arizona sits at 3-2, and hosts the UCLA Bruins on Saturday.