The 123rd edition of the Big Game featured a number of firsts. It was the first time Cal and Stanford ever faced off on a Friday. It was the first time the two teams both entered the game winless. It was the first Big Game without fans in attendance.
Most importantly, it was the first Big Game to be decided by a blocked extra point.
Stanford’s Thomas Booker broke through the line to swat down Dario Longhetto’s potential game-tying extra point with just 58 seconds remaining as the Cardinal stunned Cal 24-23 in an empty California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.
“I feel like the entire day we’d been getting pretty good pressure in terms of our field goal blocks and PAT blocks,” Booker said. “I tried to time the snap as well as I could. I got off, got penetration, got my hand up. I got enough penetration where I think it hit me on the elbow. So it was a great win today.”
Added Stanford head coach David Shaw: “You heard the guys on the sideline saying, ‘Hey we can block it! We can block it! We can block it! We’re going to block this!’ And that’s huge.”
The game appeared destined for overtime after Cal’s Christopher Brown punched in a three-yard touchdown run in the final minute, bringing the Bears within a single point. Instead, the Cardinal won in regulation to take back the Stanford Axe after Cal snapped a nine-game losing streak in the series last season.
“It’s a world’s difference,” said Stanford quarterback Davis Mills. “They came into our house last year and beat us and took the Axe and we did the same to them this year. The Axe is back with its rightful owners.”
Cal (0-3) got the scoring started on its opening drive, marching 75 yards on eight plays, capped by a seven-yard touchdown pass from Chase Garbers to Kekoa Crawford to make it 7-0.
But special teams mistakes by the Golden Bears proved costly for the second straight week. Late in the second quarter with a 10-3 lead, Nikko Remigio muffed a punt and Stanford’s Thomas Booker recovered at the Cal 16 yard line.
The Cardinal would cash in, as Mills connected with Michael Wilson for an 11-yard TD to tie the game at 10.
Cal got another chance to go into halftime with a lead, but Dario Longhetto’s 32-yard field goal was blocked by Curtis Robinson and the teams entered their respective locker rooms tied at 10.
Stanford (1-2) forced another critical Cal turnover early in the third quarter when Salim Turner-Muhammad stripped Marcel Dancy and Booker recovered yet another fumble for the Cardinal in Golden Bears territory. That led to an Austin Jones two-yard TD run to give Stanford its first lead of the game at 17-10.
Cal answered quickly, helped by a 54-yard run by Damien Moore, the team’s longest play from scrimmage all season. That set up a three-yard TD pass from Garbers to Remigio to tie the game again at 17.
But Stanford marched right back down the field and Jones punched in his second score of the game from eight yards out and the Cardinal hung to win.
“It’s something we’ve been thinking about all year long,” Jones said “We just knew we had to get (the Axe) back. It’s unbelievable. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Jones finished the game with 85 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Mills went 24 of 32 for 205 yards and a TD.
For Cal, Garbers finished 19 of 29 for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 51 yards on 13 carries. Moore led all rushers with 121 yards on 10 attempts.
Cal outgained Stanford 392-300, but the Cardinal won the turnover battle 2-0, scoring 14 points of the Golden Bears’ two fumbles.
Stanford now leads the all-time series against Cal, 65-47-11, winning 10 of the last 11 meetings.