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Football: Shaw looks forward to the Big Game

At the midpoint of the regular season, Stanford football finds itself at 4-2. At his weekly press conference Monday, head coach David Shaw acknowledged this record as disappointing because of how close Stanford’s losses were. But, considering the challenge of replacing Andrew Luck, Coach also feels this is a good place for Stanford to be heading into the last stretch of conference games.

Unfortunately for Shaw, Stanford heads into the second half of its season without starting wide receiver Ty Montgomery, whose participation in the 115th edition of the Big Game against rival California this weekend Shaw announced as doubtful. While Montgomery’s production has been disappointing thus far, his replacements were effectively nonexistent against the Irish, with senior Jamal-Rashad Patterson dropping his only target.

Redshirt senior outside linebacker Chase Thomas (44) and four fellow teammates are 2-2 in Big Games against Cal. This weekend they have the chance to seal a winning record.

That loss at Notre Dame is still fresh in the team’s mind, leading to the question, will the team move on from the controversial loss in time to bounce back against Cal? As of Monday afternoon, the answers were varied from different members of the Cardinal squad. Nickel back Usua Amanam assured the media that the team had collectively moved on from the loss, but captain Chase Thomas admitted to not being over the loss just yet.

The challenge of moving on is perhaps harder than ever, as most players agreed that it really doesn’t feel like Big Game week on campus just yet. Saturday will be the first time since the inaugural Big Game in 1879 that the teams meet before November, and it certainly is a bit weird to see the fountains dyed red on an 80-degree day.

But Big Game will always be Big Game, no matter what the date is. Though many players’ first Big Game memories came in the last few years, coach Shaw’s experience goes back to 1990, his freshman year on the farm. That 1990 Big Game was one of the craziest in memory, perhaps only rivaled by “The Play” of 1982’s Big Game, the 30th anniversary of which will also be marked this season.

Trailing by seven, Stanford star wide receiver Ed McCaffrey reeled in a potentially game-tying touchdown grab. Stanford elected to go for two, and when the play failed, Cal’s students stormed the field to celebrate an apparent one-point victory. However, with twelve seconds remaining, the game was not over.

After the referees cleared the field and assessed a 15-yard penalty to Cal for the celebration, Stanford recovered its onside kick attempt at Cal’s 37-yard line. When kicker John Hopkins returned to the sideline to practice a potential game-winning field goal, he found his practice net had been taken away by security in the previous mayhem. So, faced with no other options, Hopkins began practicing by kicking footballs into the Memorial Stadium crowd, a sight that coach Shaw witnessed as a redshirt freshman and relayed to the media on Monday.

After a questionable roughing the passer call against Cal, Hopkins drilled his fifth field goal of the game, this one from 39 yards, to seal a wild victory. Only in the chaotic rivalry between Stanford and Cal could a win like this fall through the cracks.

Another storied rivalry took center stage on Monday during senior tight end Levine Toilolo’s turn at the table. Earlier this season, classmate and fellow standout tight end Zach Ertz relayed a story of the Stanford football team’s spring soccer victory against Stanford’s women’s soccer team, a rivalry dating back not quite as long as Big Game.

In that earlier session, Zach Ertz not so casually mentioned that he had allowed significantly fewer goals in his half as the keeper than Toilolo had. When given the chance to respond to Ertz’s comments, Toilolo refused to concede.

“I think the goals that they scored on me were better shots on their part than they were against him [Zach]. One of them was a nice header…I don’t think Zach would’ve stopped it either…Another was a breakaway where Courtney Verloo came and I don’t know where my defense was at.”

All eyes and ears will be on Zach Ertz to see how this debate will continue to unfold. Well, maybe these eyes and ears will wait until just after Ertz and Toilolo team up to try to take down the Golden Bears in 2012’s October version of the Big Game.

About Sam Fisher

Sam Fisher is the managing editor of sports for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 244. Sam also does play-by-play for KZSU's coverage of Stanford football, Stanford baseball and Stanford women's basketball. In 2013, Sam co-authored "Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football," with Joseph Beyda and George Chen.