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Reliving a Big Game streak nine years in the making

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From the first Big Game in 1892 to last year’s rendition, Stanford has accumulated a 64-46-11 overall record against Cal. However, as Stanford fans are well aware, the most important Big Games have been those since 2010, as Stanford rides the longest winning streak in Big Game history.

It all started in 2010, when Andrew Luck ’12 led the Cardinal down the field to scores on all eight possessions of the game en route to a 48-14 victory. The win served as redemption for Luck, who conceded one of his worst performances in his Stanford career at Big Game the year before. While the 2010 game was just the second win for the Cardinal since 2001, Stanford’s 48 points marked the most ever scored in a Big Game — a statistic that would be rewritten three years later.

The following season, David Shaw ’94 was named the head coach and the Cardinal came into the Big Game with a 10-1 record. Expected to blow out Cal, Stanford ended up winning by a three-point margin. Cal led 7-13 with seven minutes remaining in the first half before Stanford scored three unanswered touchdowns to take a 28-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Two touchdowns and a two-point conversion brought the Bears within three points as Cal outscored Stanford 15-3 in the final quarter. But the Cardinal held the lead, keeping the Axe at home.

In 2012, the 30th anniversary of “The Play,” the Cardinal blew past the Bears, 21-3, without Luck. Running back Stepfan Taylor stepped up with a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown, leading Stanford to the victory. Cal had an exceptionally bad game, as quarterback Zach Maynard was sacked four times. The Bears had three fumbles, and star receiver Keenan Allen was kept to just four catches for 43 yards.

Stanford defeated Cal yet again in 2013 in a 63-13 blowout. Quarterback Kevin Hogan completed 17-of-26 passes for 329 yards to lead Stanford to a Big Game record for the most points scored in the history of the rivalry. The day was particularly exciting for its implications in conference standings. While Stanford was taking command of the game, Arizona was simultaneously upsetting Oregon. Not only did the Axe stay on the Farm, but Arizona’s win clinched the Pac-12 North for Stanford. 

The following year, Stanford came into the Big Game after a tough season that included a loss to USC, breaking a 17-game winning streak at home, as well as losses to rival Notre Dame and ASU. However, the Cardinal managed to keep the Axe home as senior running back Remound Wright led Stanford to a 38-17 victory over the Bears with a standout performance. On 23 carries, he rushed for 92 yards and four touchdowns. Linebacker Blake Martinez led the defensive side, putting up two interceptions and forcing a fumble.

The 2015 game saw one of many outstanding performances by running back Christian McCaffrey. He broke a 25-year-old school record, breaking away for 389 all-purpose yards — to date, the only time this record has been broken was by McCaffrey later this season. Cal quarterback Jared Goff had an impressive game as well, keeping the Bears close behind throughout. Stanford jumped to an early lead that it would not relinquish and claimed the 35-22 victory to keep the Axe for the sixth season in a row.

In 2016, the game started out close and was tied after the first quarter. However, Stanford outscored Cal by more each quarter, pulling ahead for a final score of 45-31. McCaffrey dominated the field yet again, leading the team with 284 yards on 31 carries and three touchdowns.

With a young quarterback and the loss of McCaffrey, 2017 was a year of transition for the Cardinal. Stanford led by three at the end of the third quarter of the Big Game, and after a scoreless fourth, the Cardinal celebrated a 17-14 win. Running back Bryce Love rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown but suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter. Running back Cameron Scarlett entered the game in his place, coming up big for the Cardinal with 49 rushing yards on the final drive, allowing Stanford to run through seven minutes of game clock to end the game.

Last year’s game was said to be Cal’s best chance in several years to reclaim the Axe. The Golden Bears came ready for revenge, but Stanford’s strong start thwarted that momentum. Stanford opened a 10-point lead in the first quarter and ultimately stormed to a 23-13 victory. Wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside led the team in receptions and receiving yards, catching five passes for 109 yards.

With injuries plaguing nearly every position on the roster, the 122nd Big Game on Saturday will challenge Stanford’s lineup in new ways compared to previous years. But if history has anything to say about it, the Axe will stay on the Farm for the tenth consecutive year.

Contact Natalie Hilderbrand at nhild ‘at’ stanford.edu.