The 120th Big Game didn’t exactly follow the script of the most recent Big Games, but the ending was the same.
No. 20 Stanford football (8-3, 7-2 Pac-12) defeated Cal (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) 17-14 on a clear Saturday night in Stanford Stadium.
This was the Cardinal’s eighth straight win in the Big Game and so the Axe hasn’t left Stanford since 2010.
With the win, the Cardinal are still in the hunt for the Pac-12 North. If Washington defeats Washington State next week, then Stanford will face USC in the Pac-12 Championship.
Junior safety Ben Edwards’ game-changing interception when Cal was readying to get the go-ahead score allowed Stanford to run the clock out.
The defense allowed 153 rushing yards to Cal running back Patrick Laird but the ability to get key stops gave the Stanford offense enough to work with to get the victory.
Sophomore quarterback KJ Costello played well as he completed 17-26 for 185 passing yards and one touchdown and one interception.
Junior running back Bryce Love was limited by the Cal defense and his hurt ankle but his 57-yard highlight touchdown run gave the Cardinal life.
Although Stanford was favored by more than two touchdowns, the Cardinal looked anything but dominate.
On Stanford’s first offensive drive, Costello delivered a 33-yard pass to junior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside. The big play’s momentum was stymied after Cal forced the Cardinal to kick a field goal. Sophomore kicker Jet Toner nailed the 42-yarder to give Stanford a 3-0 lead.
Cal punched back as quarterback Ross Bowers and Laird got the Bears into the red zone. The Cardinal were able to fend off a touchdown score when fifth-year senior linebacker Peter Kalambayi sacked Bowers on third down.
The Bears evened the score with a field goal of their own.
The ease to which Cal moved the ball on Stanford’s defense was a theme for the rest of the game.
After Stanford was forced to punt, the Bears had the opportunity to take the lead but Cal kicker Matt Anderson bounced his kick off the crossbar and the Cardinal took over.
Stanford’s run game had been ineffective to this point, but the offense made adjustments to get the ball into the hands of receivers Arcega-Whiteside and junior Trenton Irwin. The adjustments proved fruitful as the receivers converted multiple third downs. The drive culminated in a 17-yard touchdown strike from Costello to sophomore tight end Kaden Smith.
It was Smith’s second touchdown of the year and his first since the game against Rice in Australia.
Cal again responded to a Stanford score with a 14-play drive which ended in a made field goal to shrink the Cardinal’s lead to 10-6.
The Cardinal had the opportunity to score before the end of the first half but Costello’s interception ended the period.
Cal’s first drive of the second half seemed more of the same after the Bears offense converted two third downs. A key defensive stop at the Stanford-44 forced a Cal punt.
Then, Love struck.
On a toss to the left, Love took the ball 57 yards to put the Cardinal up 17-6. He was gone as soon as he got to the line of scrimmage.
Again, the Bears responded. Laird had rushes of 17 and 39 yards. He would take the ball up the middle for 1-yard to score for Cal. Bowers would then make a two-point conversion to make the score 17-14 Stanford.
The Cardinal looked to respond on the next drive as they drove the ball to the Cal-13 but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a missed field goal left Stanford with zero points. Love appeared to aggravate his ankle injury on a carry and limped off the field.
The Bears kept their momentum going as Bowers converted more third downs. Looking like a long scoring drive for Cal, Bowers threw an errant deep pass which was intercepted by Edwards.
It was Edwards second interception of the season and the third of his career.
Love couldn’t go so junior running back Cameron Scarlett’s number was called upon and he delivered. His ability to churn out yards allowed Stanford to eat the rest of the clock.
Arcega-Whiteside (79 receiving yards) and Irwin (48 receiving yards) were huge for Stanford as they kept numerous drives alive.
The Cardinal will play No. 9 Notre Dame in the final game of the regular season at home on Nov. 25.
Contact Jose Saldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.