Stanford 31, California 28

It might have been a bit too close for comfort, but a win is a win, and that's what Stanford got after hosting California in the 114th Big Game. The game wasn't pretty, with rain coming down steadily on a crowd clearly short of the announced 50,000+, but the Cardinal is one step closer to its second straight appearance in a BCS bowl.

Of course, Stanford also retains the Axe after its second straight win against its cross-Bay rival, now and has another rivalry game coming up with Notre Dame next week. Stanford leads the all-time series with California, 57-46-11, though the Golden Bears have won seven of the last 10 games in the rivalry.

Play of the game: The two teams came out of the locker room at halftime with Stanford holding the slimmest of leads at 14-13. The Cardinal received the second-half kickoff and drove the length of the field to go up 21-13, but it was still very much anyone's game. After Stanford's defense forced a punt, however, Andrew Luck and the offense came back on the field and promptly made a big statement. With the ball on the Stanford 49-yard line, Luck threw a deep 41-yard bomb to Levine Toilolo to put Stanford on the Cal 10-yard line, taking the energy out of the Cal's defense and her contingent in the stands. One Luck to Ryan Hewitt pass later, Stanford was up 28-13 and never looked back.

New faces, big plays: As the progression of the season has worn down the Cardinal, a couple of less familiar players stepped up in big ways in the Big Game. Ty Montgomery and Corey Gatewood were both critical to Stanford's success—Montgomery, the true freshman, is starting in place of Chris Owusu, while fifth-year senior Gatewood made some important plays on defense after transitioning recently from wide receiver to the secondary.
Montgomery's big moment came in the first quarter. Thanks to a Cal penalty, the Cardinal quickly moved the ball to the Cal 34-yard line on its first possession. From there, Luck handed off to Montgomery on a reverse, and the freshman took advantage of a couple of great blocks to burn the Golden Bear defense on his way into the end zone. "He's drinking through a fire hose right now," Stanford head coach David Shaw said of Montgomery. "We have to play him—the guy can make some plays. He missed a couple today also, but that's what you live with when you have a young, talented athlete. We're going to keep playing him, he can make some great plays for us."
Though Gatewood didn't have a similar moment in the spotlight, his play was important in limiting Cal's offense after the first quarter. For much of the game, he replaced regular starter Johnson Bademosi, and largely vindicated the coaching staff's decision to insert him. Gatewood finished the game with three tackles and one pass deflection. "He's a special athlete who truly can play at the next level," Shaw said of Gatewood. "We thought we needed him on offense, and we switched him back over, and he did some good things on offense. We needed him back on defense so we flipped him back over, and God bless him, he's been phenomenal for us, just as far as being able to make the adjustment and come out and still perform."

Cardinal D limits Maynard-Allen connection: Though Cal QB Zach Maynard has had some well-publicized struggles this season, the Bears still have a potent passing offense mainly thanks to Keenan Allen, Maynard's half-brother and one of the most talented wide receivers in the Pac-12. After catching six first-quarter balls for 97 yards, Allen appeared on track to burn the Cardinal secondary all night. However, that was all the offense Allen would generate, as he didn't catch a single ball the rest of the way. Overall, Maynard ended the game completing 20 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, while Allen was Cal's top receiver, despite all of his receptions coming in the first 15 minutes. "Defensively, our guys stepped up—they stepped up and played a good game," Shaw said. "He's a phenomenal athlete and a heck of a receiver, but our guys stepped up and had a good second half."
"We do it as a team," said safety Delano Howell. "When everyone does their job, then certain individuals on the other team don't shine anymore. We work together to shut down individuals, not necessarily one player."

Luck continues Heisman campaign: Andrew Luck didn't have the prettiest game, throwing an interception early and overthrowing open receivers more than once. However, he finished the night with 20 completions on 30 attempts for 257 yards and two touchdowns. Luck also managed the game superbly on Stanford's last offensive drive, when the Cardinal took 7:40 off the clock before kicking a field goal to go ahead by two scores. One point of concern in recent games, however, has been Luck's interceptions. He's now thrown picks in four straight games, the longest such streak of his career, and he's had interceptions returned for touchdowns in three of them (though this game's pick-six was called back on penalties). "Interceptions are part of football," Luck said after the game. "Obviously you try to avoid them, but as a big issue, I don't think it is."

Weather plays a factor again: The rainy weather had an effect on the field and in the stands, with many fans staying home and lots of empty seats despite an announced sellout. As in last week's Stanford/Oregon tilt, both Cal and Stanford players had issues staying upright, with lots of slips on both sides of the ball. "Both teams are playing on the same surface, so you can't sit here and complain about anything from that standpoint," Luck said.

Polls and bowls: It was a wild weekend in college football, with the BCS Nos. 2, 4, 5, and 7 teams all falling on Friday or Saturday. Most importantly, Oregon fell to USC in Eugene, opening the door for Stanford to win the Pac-12 North and advance to the conference championship game if Oregon State somehow upsets the Ducks next week. Given the chaos, the Cardinal will move up in the latest version of the BCS standings, though it's hard to say by exactly how much. It is also highly likely that a victory over Notre Dame next week would secure a BCS at-large berth, even if Stanford does not win the Pac-12. However, with Oregon out of the national championship picture, the Card's only shot at the Rose Bowl is now to win the conference.

Stanford plays host to the Fighting Irish next week at 5 p.m. Cal will wrap up its season in Tempe as it travels south to play Arizona State—that game kicks off at 7:15 p.m.

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