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Luckless Bears drop 7th straight Big Game

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Monday November 19, 2001

This is what it comes down to for the Cal football team this season: even when Stanford played its worst, the Bears couldn’t beat them. 

The Cardinal turned the ball over five times and committed a season high 10 penalties for 90 yards, but Cal handed back four of the turnovers and managed to give up a Big Game-record 568 yards on defense in a 35-28 Stanford win. 

“You can’t paint the Mona Lisa every week,” Stanford head coach Tyrone Willingham said of his team’s ugly win. And against Cal, they certainly didn’t need to. 

The Bears had their now-expected pileup of miscues against the Cardinal. Wideout LaShaun Ward dropped five passes, and quarterback Kyle Boller threw two interceptions. Cornerback Atari Callen missed a tackle on Stanford’s Luke Powell that turned a short gain into a 79-yard touchdown, the second-longest in Big Game history, and the Bears let Cardinal quarterback Chris Lewis to throw for a career-high 390 yards and three scores. 

But they were also the victims of two very questionable calls, both at crucial points in the game. 

After blocking a Stanford field goal at the end of the first half to keep the score 21-13 in favor of Stanford, the Bears should have had some momentum to start the second half. But return man Charon Arnold stretched out on the return and hit the ball on the ground, popping it out. The officials ruled it a fumble and Stanford recovered. 

“That (play) was the story of our season right there,” Cal head coach Tom Holmoe said. “We’d get something good going, and a tough break takes us out of it.” 

In the final minutes of the game, Cal was again hit with a tough call. With Stanford up 35-28, the Bears forced a punt. Calvin Hosey, who had just missed blocking an earlier punt, again came through and dove at the ball, just missing it. He landed in a heap at Stanford punter Eric Johnson’s feet. Johnson collapsed on landing, and after a considerable delay, the referee threw a flag for running into the kicker, giving Stanford a crucial first down. A Pac-10 spokesperson said after the game the punter needed a place to come down, and Hosey didn’t give him the opportunity. 

“His foot landed in front of my thigh, and he just fell down,” Hosey said. “It’s up to the refs to make the call, and we just have to live with it.” 

Stanford ran another minute and a half off of the clock before punting again, and the Bears could only manage a Hail Mary pass from midfield which was batted down in the end zone as time expired. 

The Bears are now 0-10, with a makeup game against a 2-8 Rutgers team on Friday their only hope of salvaging a win this season. 

“You want to talk about Rutgers? Sure, let’s talk about Rutgers,” said Holmoe, for whom the game will be the last as Cal head coach. “That game takes on huge, huge significance for us at this point.” 

The win was the seventh in a row for Stanford in the series. Those who feel some of the spark has left the once-rabid rivalry were supported by the scene after the game: the Stanford fans didn’t rush the field as the winners usually do, and only about half of the team stuck around to receive the Axe trophy. Five minutes after the final whistle, both teams were already bunkered into their locker rooms, ready to move on to the next game. 

Cal’s senior class is now the third in a row to leave without ever winning the Axe, a feeling that didn’t sit well with linebacker Scott Fujita. 

“I just didn’t want to leave the field,” Fujita said. “This was my last big game, the last time I’ll play with all of my best friends.” 

There were some bright spots for the Bears. They took a 10-7 lead in the first quarter when safety Nnamdi Asomugha intercepted a Lewis screen pass and took in it for a touchdown from 16 yards out. Lewis was pressured into the poor throw by linebacker Matt Nixon, who had a whale of a game with 10 tackles, including three for losses, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal. 

Boller and Ward hooked up for a 48-yard bomb for the final touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter. But that didn’t make up for the seven dropped passes by Cal receivers. 

“Making some of those catches would have helped,” said Boller, who threw for 278 yards in the game. “We just couldn’t move the ball late in the game.” 

Both quarterbacks were banged up during the game. Lewis was hurt in the third quarter and left for a play, with senior Randy Fasani coming in for his first action in four games. Fasani scrambled for 14 yards on his only play putting the Cardinal within field goal range, but Willingham called for a fake that turned into a botched pass. 

Boller was hit hard in the fourth quarter and came up holding his throwing arm, but he stayed in the game for the duration. 

“I wasn’t coming out unless my arm was broken,” Boller said. 

Most of the Cal talk after the game was how well the team had played, and how the players came together and gave it their best effort. But Holmoe put it best when considering the ramifications of a winless season. 

“Lessons are nice, but wins are sweeter,” he said.