Big Game: Cal Falls to Stanford For Eighth Straight Time

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Stanford Cardinal players celebrate with 'The Stanford Axe' after they beat the California Golden Bears at Stanford Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Stanford Cardinal players celebrate with 'The Stanford Axe' after they beat the California Golden Bears at Stanford Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

In the 120th edition of the Big Game, Cal fell just short to Stanford, unable to match their opponent’s talent level for the eighth straight time.

The Stanford Cardinal continue to dominate their rivalry with the Cal Bears, winning their eighth consecutive Big Game to mark the longest winning streak in the rivalry’s long, storied history. But in the 120th rendition of the Bay Area encounter, Stanford had a fight on their hands.

The Cardinal never trailed on Saturday night, taking the lead with a field goal on the first possession and only allowing the Bears to tie it with three points of their own five minutes later. Quarterback K.J. Costello pushed them back in front mid-way through the second quarter, hitting Kaden Smith for a 17-yard scoring strike, and Stanford didn’t look back.

Cal didn’t let them run away with this game, however. They kept fighting, getting another Matt Anderson field goal before the half to keep it a four-point game. For Anderson, it was his 56th career made field goal, tying him for the school’s record.

After the break, Bryce Love finally broke out, not letting a hobbled ankle keep him from a 57-yard score to make it a two-possession game. Patrick Laird wouldn’t be outdone, taking the ball 39 yards down to Stanford’s one-yard line before punching it in with a spin move. Ross Bowers followed with a two-point conversion, taking it himself to make it 17-14 in Stanford’s favor. That would be the end of the scoring.

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Cal had another opportunity in the fourth quarter. Stanford missed a field goal with over 11 minutes to go, allowing Cal to take over with a chance to tie or take the lead. They picked up a pair of first downs, including a beautifully-anticipated out-route between Ross Bowers and Jordan Veasy, but they couldn’t keep the momentum. Bowers followed that throw with an ill-advised one, heaving a ball downfield into double coverage, where it landed in the waiting arms of safety Ben Edwards.

Stanford would do the rest, running out the clock for their eight consecutive Big Game win to push their record to 8-3 on the season. Head coach David Shaw earned his 72nd win with the school to make him the all-time winningest coach in Stanford history.

The victory also eliminated the Washington Huskies from the Pac-12 North race, but next week’s Apple Cup still has plenty of intrigue. If the Washington State Cougars beat their in-state rivals, they will clinch the division. If they lose to the Huskies, Stanford claims the crown.

Cal did a nice job keeping Love in check for the most part. He scored the long touchdown, of course, but only gained 44 yards on his other 13 carries. A re-aggravation of his ankle injury forced him out of the game early in the fourth quarter, with a limp noticeably more pronounced than it was earlier in the day. The Heisman candidate crossed the 100-yard mark for the ninth time in 10 games played.

Love’s understudies picked up his slack, and Cameron Scarlett helped put the game away in the fourth quarter. Stanford took over with over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, and Scarlett was the man on the final drive. He carried the ball 11 times and chewed up 47 yards, forcing Cal to use the last of their timeouts and allowing Stanford to kneel and kill the clock.

While Stanford has postseasons plans already, Cal has one more opportunity to reach eligibility for an extra game. They take on the UCLA Bruins next weekend at the Rose Bowl with their sixth win of the season in reach.

Next: Stanford, Cal Square Off in Big Game

Consistently this season, Cal has not been able to match up with their opponents from a talent standpoint. That was especially true with some of their stars, like Devante Downs and Demetris Robertson, missing large chunks of the season with injuries. The Bears kept fighting hard, but just weren’t able to come through with the big play they needed. Head coach Justin Wilcox has them headed in the right direction, and maybe that axe is within reach.