The California football team knew that a win on Saturday against BYU would put them in the postseason for the first time since 2011. However, in a season plagued with plenty of flags, poor tackling and poor coaching decisions, the Bears managed to fall when it mattered most losing 42-35 to visiting BYU, despite the Cougars missing starting quarterback Taysom Hill and leading rusher Jamaal Williams.
“It was a heck of a football game. Unfortunately, we came out on the wrong end of it,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “It seemed like there were a lot of ball games that came down to the last possession of the game. We won some, we lost some. You become a good football team when you win them all.”
In what was a back and forth game, Cal got off to a slow start defensively, with two key penalties allowing the Cougars to take the opening kickoff and drive 10 plays down the field in less then three minutes for a seven point lead that looked to be the start of a long afternoon. On an early third-and-10 play, JuCo transfer cornerback Darius White was flagged for a pass interference call, keeping the BYU drive moving, and then, in Bears territory, safety Stefan McClure was called for a personal foul penalty, allowing running back Paul Lasike to score just four plays later.
Cal, however, quickly answered, with quarterback Jared Goff starting on a hot streak, going 7-for-9 for 66 yards through the air, capped off with the first of three touchdown throws to wide receiver Kenny Lawler, only the fourteenth Bears wide receiver to accomplish that feat. Goff finished the day 38-of-60 for 393 yards, and four touchdowns, but it was not enough.
"It’s tough for me. I think getting over the hump in college football is a hard thing to do, and we had opportunities to do it this year, just didn’t get it done,” said Dykes. “As a program, we just have to keep improving and getting better. We’ll start working on that on Monday. Our guys will get back in the weight room and continue to get bigger and stronger and faster, which we need to do. We’ll leave tomorrow and start recruiting. That’ll be a primary focus for us. Again, we know we have some areas on our football team that we need to get addressed in recruiting and guys will be on the road doing that tomorrow. But, yeah the last couple weeks have been tough. We knew looking at the schedule it was a back-loaded schedule. We were going to play a lot of good football teams down the stretch, and we needed to win some ballgames and we weren’t able to get it done."
Cougars walk-on quarterback Christian Stewart finished the game 23-for-38 for 433 yards, with one very curious backwards lateral fumble near the goal line and one interception – the second of the season and career for freshman Caleb Coleman.
“It means a lot, obviously, because we are an independent team which people say can they compete with some of these better conferences,” Stewart said. “I was happy we were able to come out and compete against a high-power offense that scores a lot of points, and our defense was able to really hold them. I thought they did a great job. It really shows that we can play with anybody in the country. It shows we are really clicking on all cylinders.”
Stewart was fairly limited downfield, but was helped by numerous holding and pass interference penalties that kept his offense on the field. Cal allowed 107 rushing yards, with the majority going to Lasike.
After two punts, BYU took over and continued from their first possession, with Stewart completing a 47-yard bomb to wide out Mitchell Juergens, who got past the Cal secondary after a miscommunication in the defensive backfield, which seemed prevalent throughout the game.
“We take full responsibility, we have to be assignment sound,” said McClure. “We need to yell, communicate better. We’re going to go back to work on Monday… and make sure we grow from this and from the season.”
The second quarter started much better for the Bears, who immediately capped a seven play, 67-yard drive to tie the game. Later, with 7:29 remaining, Goff completed a one-yard touchdown to Lawler, his third of the game, after the Coleman interception to give Cal a 21-14 lead going into the half.
Lawler finished with 12 catches, 138 yards and three touchdowns on the night.
At halftime, it seemed like all signs pointed towards the Bears opening up a larger lead, but it was not to be, as BYU opened the third quarter with a stop, followed by a Stewart touchdown to Algernon Brown to tie the game once again.
Goff was then intercepted at Cal’s 31-yard line, but Stewart answered with a questionable play of his own. After driving his team down to the one, BYU went with the option, and rather than keep it for a sack, Stewart threw it 10 yards backwards to his running back Lasike, who failed to fall on the ball. McClure was paying attention and picked up the ball for his second fumble recovery of the season. This turnover led to seven points, as Tre Watson juked to the outside and dived just inside the pylon for a nine yard touchdown run – the first of his career.
Cal’s lead did not last long, however, as Stewart and the Cougars raced right back down the field and tied the game with a nine yard touchdown pass to Juergens, his second of the game.
After a rare appearance by Luke Rubenzer which resulted in a punt that was downed at the BYU one-yard line, the Bears defense let up the obligatory big play -- an 83-yard bomb to Jordan Leslie put the Cougars up 35-28 with 11:38 remaining.
Cal went on tie the game, but as time wound down, a poor Cole Leininger punt gave the Cougars fantastic field position. With five plays and only 1:48 coming off the clock, Stewart led the Cougars 66 yards to put his team up – this time for good.
Goff led the Bears down the field one more time, with a touchdown needed to take the game to overtime. Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin and the offense got the ball to first and goal at the BYU 14 with 29 seconds to go, giving them four shots at the end zone. However, four incompletions to Lawler meant it was not to be for the Bears who came up short at the last second yet again.
Despite a drastic improvement from last season’s abysmal 1-11 season, Cal and Dykes will surely be disappointed to avoid a bowl game after the tremendous 4-1 start to the season, but with another season under their belt, many players are already turning their focus to next year’s campaign.
“For the program, we’re still making strides in the right direction,” said running back Daniel Lasco. It’s a lot better than we did last year but it’s not good enough. There’s a lot of stuff we left out there, a lot of games.”
The Bears scored 459 points in the 2014 season, setting a school single-season scoring record.
Goff’s 53 career touchdowns now rank third on the all-time rolls, while his 35 touchdown passes in 2014 are the seventh-highest single-season total in Pac-12 history, four off the league record.
Lasco’s 130 rushing yards gave him 100 or more rushing yard for the fifth time in 2014, as he surpassed 1,000 yards to become the first Cal running back to do so since 2011, when Isi Sofele rushed for 1,322.