BERKELEY -- As far as Gene Hackman quotes go, you're more likely to hear quips from Superman or Superman II ("Otisberg?") before you hear much from The Replacements.
Sources close to the program had said that Lawler's "bruised right butt cheek," as head coach Sonny Dykes called it, was a deep bruise that affected his hip, and the muscles that make a downfield threat like Lawler go. He hobbled and limped through the week, and after the game, he gingerly made his way up the steps from the locker room, and quietly made his way into the night.
Lawler was anything but quiet on the field in Cal's 54-24 bowl-eligibility-clinching win over visiting Oregon State (2-8, 0-7 in Pac-12). While he didn't start, he made as big an impact on the game as Jared Goff's sixth career 400-yard passing game.
With 58 seconds left in the first quarter, and the Bears (6-4, 3-4) and Beavers -- dead last in the Pac-12 standings -- knotted at 0-0, Lawler leaped high into the air to snare a four-yard touchdown pass from Goff -- his first of six, tying his own single-game (in regulation) record.
Lawler came down on that injured hip, and had to be helped off by his teammates.
One quarter later, he was back in, this time, laying a block on a cut-back tunnel screen from Goff to Tre Watson, who got a key block up front from Jordan Rigsbee, and then, about 35 yards later, from Lawler.
"To me, one of the big plays of the game was the screen pass Tre caught right at the end of the half," Dykes said. "It was a heck of a run and a heck of a play."
"We practiced all week that the play was going to go to me," Watson said. "I actually was supposed to take it left, but I took it right, because I saw the field being open, and I saw I had some lead blockers ahead. When I cut it across, I took it, and my team took me to the promised land."
During the week, Watson watched both NFL and high school film of Tavon Austin, and, he said, it inspired him to make a big play. "Going against the grain," Watson said, "is always a positive thing."
"I had a block by Kenny, and I think I had one by Rigsbee," Watson continued. "I just saw defenders getting cleaned up, and I was like, 'Yes!'"
The toughness that Lawler showed, in spite of being far less than 100 percent, was not lost on his teammates.
"That shows that he cares about the team, and he cares about winning, and he's willing to do it all and sacrifice his body," Watson said. "I love him for it, he loves me and we love each other. We're a good team, and this was a great team win for us."
After losing the previous four games, Watson said, Cal came out with "a chip on our shoulder. That's what we needed."
That score put Cal up, 24-3, and the Bears didn't look back, finishing off a 54-24 win over the Beavers and becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2011, tearing off a program single-game record 760 yards of total offense, in the process.
"It's awesome. It's really cool," Goff said. "It's exciting in there (the locker room), the whole atmosphere, I'm just trying to enjoy it. It's a culmination of three years of hard work, putting in that work every day. I said it a millino times when we were 1-11, when we lost to BYU, that the work would pay off eventually. By no means are we done."
After allowing Oregon to break its school record for total offense with 777 last week, the Bears decied to turn the trick itself this week against Oregon State, breaking the record of 729 total offensive yards against Washington in 2003 (fueled by Aaron Rodgers). Cal -- behind an offensive line that played "the best they have since I've been here," according to Dykes -- rushed for a season-high 307 yards (also the highest rushing total in Dykes's tenure), with both Vic Enwere (89) and Watson (110) setting career highs for rushing yards, as starting tailback Daniel Lasco went down with a sprained ankle.
"Going into the game, we always think we have to be ready for any opportunity that's presented," said Watson, who had 10 carries to Enwere's 16. "We're always ready ... I honestly thought he was going to come back, so I wasn't focused on that at all. I was focused on coming in and doing my job."
It was an eight-yard rush by third-string quarterback Cole Webb, though, that tied the record, with a rush with over three minutes left in the game, and a run by Khalfani Muhammad broke the mark one play later. Muhammad finished with eight carries for 62 yards.
"I thought we pass protected well, kept Jared upright most of the night," Dykes said. "Obviously, we ran the ball well, we ran it for over 300 yards, and anytime you rush the ball for that many yards, it starts up front. I thought our running backs ran really hard. Tre ran hard. I thought Vic ran hard. I thought Khalfani ran hard."
Watson echoed Dykes's sentiments when it came to the offensive line, which was particularly strong inside, regularly opening up holes in the A and B gaps.
"Honestly, I think the O-line blocked amazing," said the sophomore tailback. "I loved it, and [the holes] were wide open, and I was just taking advantage of each hole they presented to me, going out there and playing football and having fun doing it."
Fun was certainly had in the aftermath of the win, with Dykes coming into the post-game press conference toweling off after a Gatorade bath, but the game started off on a sour note.
Goff started off a bit rocky, with three straight misfires to Darius Powe, Muhammad and Powe again on the first drive, as Cal and the Beavers stumbled their way to a 7-0 first quarter. Goff then completed nine of his next 10 passes, and finished the game 26-for-37 for 453 yards and one interception -- his sixth career 400-yard game, and first of 2015. With his program-record-tying six touchdowns in regulation, Goff also tallied his seventh game with four or more touchdown passes.
"I don't know," Goff said of his early woes, when he went 1-for-5 to start the game. "I started off slow, and I don't know why I was missing high, and I need to work on it, but i was proud the guys were able to come back,"Goff said. "We didn't start the way we wanted to, but we scored 54. it was awesome."
Goff became the first Pac-12 quarterback ever to tally 3,000 yards of passing in each of his first three seasons with his performance on Saturday.
His final TD toss came in the fourth quarter to walk-on freshman Malik McMorris. The 300-pound, 5-foot-9 freshman is a locker room favorite, walking on and working out alone this summer, following a stellar high school career that saw him play through his mother's losing battle against cancer.
"That was a fun moment for him," Goff said. "It was a perfect play call in the perfect situation. I got a little excited, because I knew he was going to be left alone. He was so wide open, you don't want to miss it."
Cal has been working on that pass to McMorris every practice that the media has been able to see, since the second week of fall camp.
"The prior play, or two plays before, we had a set run play to kind of set up for the pass, so two plays later, I ran in there," McMorris said. "The defensive end, he bit, so it was daylight, and we practice it all the time. I was just focused on catching the ball. Once I caught the ball, I turned around, saw the blue end zone, ran in and that was it, touchdown."
As McMorris and Watson crossed paths at the postgame press conference, Watson slapped him on the back, and said, "There's the MVP."
"It felt great," McMorris said. "We've been running that since fall camp. It's great to be in the situation where they can put me in the game, and try to close it out with a running clock. Coach called the play, and I had a feeling in my head that it was going to come my way, so I ran as fast as I could -- which isn't very fast [laughter from the media], I got there, turned my head, saw the defensive end bite, and had to look it into the tuck, and touchdown 99."
Goff had two streaks of nine straight completions on the night, including eight straight to end the first quarter.
"I thought we missed a couple of throws early," Dykes said. "We weren't as sharp as we should have been early in the game, but once we settled in, we felt like we could block them up front, and anytime he's got that time to throw, he can do it. I think it just shows you how important it is to protect him and keep him upright. When we do that, we are a very good offense, and when we don't, it's a bit of a struggle."
Without Lawler for much of the game, Goff relied primarily on Maurice Harris, who started at the Z receiver position in place of Lawler, hitting him four times for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
"You know, they called my number, and I just have to go in and make a play," Harris said. "If a guy's down, then the next guy has to step up. Whoever's in, just do your job."
Goff also found Trevor Davis three times for 90 yards, and Bryce Treggs three times for 71 yards, tallying five passing plays of 24 yards or more. It must be noted, though, that the Beavers were without their top three defensive backs -- Larry Scott, Justin Strong and Dwayne Williams. Still, this was just the game that the offense -- and Goff -- needed, and the trio of Davis, Treggs and Harris was particularly helpful in getting Goff out of his early slump.
After turning the ball over on downs during the Bears' second drive, Goff found Davis on first-and-10 from the 42 for a 54-yard completion that only wasn't a touchdown because Davis's undershirt was stretched about five yards by his defender, as he went by, finally dragging him down at the four-yard line. That catch gave Davis four catches of 50 or more yards this season.
On the next drive, Goff stepped up under pressure on first-and-15 to fire a seed to Treggs up the seam for 26 yards. Goff had completed nine straight before a fade in the front corner of the end zone to Chad Hansen was dropped -- a ball that, normally, would go to Lawler. The drive ended in a field goal -- giving kicker Matt Anderson his 10th make in 13 attempts.
Goff started the next drive pinned at his own seven, but he fired deep down the middle to Harris across the 50, and had he led him a bit more, Harris could have easily had a 93-yard touchdown. Instead, he settled for a 57-yard catch -- a career best. Enwere gained 23 yards on the next three plays on the ground, then Goff hit Davis to get down to the one, allowing Enwere to punch in the one-yard touchdown, putting Cal up, 17-3.
"I was really proud of Maurice Harris tonight," Dykes said. "I thought he had a great game."
NOTE: Safety Damariay Drew started the game, but exited early in the first quarter with a sprained knee ... Linebacker Devante Downs did not play (foot). Dykes said that Muhammad was a bit shaken up, but it did not look to be very serious.
Stay tuned for more from Cal's win over Oregon State ...