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Mistakes cost Bears in first overtime Big Game

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff Daily Planet Sta
Monday November 20, 2000

It was a fitting end to a disappointing season. 

In the 103rd installment of the Big Game, the Cal Bears came within one or two plays of breaking the Cardinal’s current six-game winning streak. But in the end, the Bears’ inexperience and nervousness shone through, dooming them to yet another near-miss loss. 

After the Bears (3-8, 2-6 Pac-10) failed to score in their opening overtime possession, the Cardinal needed just two plays to find the end zone and end the game. Fullback Casey Moore faked a run up the middle, then broke free and took in a pass from quarterback Randy Fasani without a Cal player in sight, giving the Cardinal (5-6, 4-4) a 36-30 win and tying the longest winning streak in Big Game history. 

“When you go first and don’t score, you probably have to give them no yards or even back them up,” said Cal head coach Tom Holmoe. “It forced us to be in a risky defense, and that showed.” 

The Bears pulled off a remarkable comeback just to get the game into overtime. After making just about every offensive and special teams mistake under the sun through three quarters, Cal’s offense put up 17 points in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 30-30.  

“To get that close and then have the rug pulled out from under you, that makes the loss even harder,” Holmoe said. “We needed this win bad, and it makes the offseason that much harder.” 

But this was a game characterized by Bear failures far more than Stanford triumphs. 

Although sophomore quarterback Kyle Boller certainly led the way to the Bear futility with four interceptions in the game, he had a lot of help. There was wide receiver Philip Pipersburg fumbling away the ball and Cal’s momentum following the only Stanford turnover of the day; the Cal punt team allowing two blocks that led to 10 Stanford points; the offensive line being called for five false start penalties; and there was safety Dewey Hale, who watched a Stanford receiver run by him on the sideline without trying to push him out of bounds, then lost his coverage on fullback Casey Moore on the final play of the game, the easiest touchdown pass you’ll ever see. 

“You can’t expect to win the game if you turn the ball over five times,” Boller said. 

And despite all those huge mistakes, any one of which could have doomed the Bears, the game went into overtime. That’s pretty much how the entire Cal season has gone: overcoming mistakes to get within inches of a win. If these kids ever learn to cut those mistakes down a bit, they could surprise a lot of folks. But don’t count on it. 

As always, there were plenty of encouraging signs for the Bears. The defense held the Cardinal under 100 total yards until halfway through the fourth quarter. Boller looked comfortable in the pocket, and his main fault on the day was trying to do too much, throwing balls up for grabs that seemed to always come down in red and white gloves. And the one-two punch of tailbacks Saleem Muhammed and Joe Igber kept the Stanford defense on its heels for much of the game. 

But five turnovers and two blocked punts was simply too much for Tom Holmoe’s team to overcome. 

As they have in most games this year, the Bears came out and marched down the field on their opening possession, covering 76 yards in just seven plays. Boller completed all three passes he tried on the drive, and Muhammed pounded the ball into the end zone from one yard out to give the Bears a 7-0 lead. 

“When we go out there like we did on that first drive, then we can’t get anything going later, it’s real frustrating,” Boller said. 

But two three-and-outs later, Stanford safety Colin Branch came around the end to block Nick Harris’ punt and return it 20 yards for a touchdown. Cal tight end Brian Surgener bounced his first two long snaps back to Harris, and this one cost the Bears a touchdown. 

“We went ahead and changed the snapper, and it’s too bad we had to do that in the last game of the season,” Holmoe said. “It’s hard to give away those punt blocks and win the game.” 

Surgener was replaced by defensive tackle Jacob Waasdorp, but that didn’t help later in the half. Waasdorp got the snap to Harris but missed a blocking assignment, allowing Brian Gaffney to come untouched and block the punt, which linebacker Riall Johnson recovered on the Cal nine, and the Cardinal kicked a field goal to add to their lead. 

“We do everything we can during the week to prepare, but it just doesn’t come out on the field,” Harris said. “It’s pretty obvious when someone comes untouched that there’s a breakdown somewhere.” 

Boller looked strong in leading a 10-play, 63-yard drive that ended with a short touchdown pass to tailback Joe Echema at the end of the third quarter. Cal’s defense forced a punt right away, and a personal foul on Moore for hitting returner Jemeel Powell before he caught the ball gave the Bears the ball at the Stanford 37. The offense rode Joe Igber four straight plays, and he broke a draw 27 yards to pay dirt to give the Bears a 20-16 lead. Cal had outgained Stanford 271 yards to 97 at that point, and Stanford’s hopes of a sixth straight win looked bleak. 

But the dormant Stanford offense suddenly came to life, and Fasani drove his team down to the Cal two-yard line for a first-and-goal. Three straight running plays netted no yardage, however, and the Cardinal decided to go for a touchdown rather than settle for a field goal. Fasani found wideout DeRonnie Pitts for the touchdown and the 23-20 lead. The Bears answered with a Mark Jensen 27-yard field goal to tie the score with less than five minutes left. 

But that wouldn’t last long. A short pass from Fasani to Luke Powell turned into a huge play when Cal’s Harold Pearson missed the tackle on Powell. Powell tiptoed down the left sideline, and Hale let him go, thinking he had stepped out of bounds. But 75 yards later and with no whistles behind him, Powell had put the Cardinal back in the lead. 

“Everybody thought he was out,” said Cal’s Andre Carter. “When he kept going, that was a killer.” 

After Boller threw his fourth and final interception of the game, the Bears got the ball back at their own 41 with 1:49 left in regulation. A 15-yard facemask penalty on Stanford’s Matt Leonard moved the ball into Stanford territory. Boller hit freshman wideout Geoff McArthur with a lob over the middle to move the ball inside the 10, and Igber ran a draw into the end zone to tie the score and send the game into overtime. But Jensen missed a 42-yard field goal, and Moore’s catch ended a miserable Cal season. 

“We came back, and they came back. I think we just ran out of time,” Holmoe said.