Photo: The Bears won back the Axe during the Big Game with a score of 37-16.
Skyler Reid/Staff
The Bears won back the Axe during the Big Game with a score of 37-16.

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Bears Take Back the Axe
The Bears reclaimed the Axe in the 111th Big Game ...

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Photo: Jahvid Best (4)   

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Zack Follett declared last weekend that he was "not going to lose this game."

On Saturday, the senior captain and the rest of the Cal football team made good on that promise with a 37-16 triumph over Stanford. For the sixth time in seven years, the Axe is back in Berkeley.

"This something I can take with me for the rest of my life," senior defensive end Rulon Davis said.

"It's an amazing feeling," senior linebacker Anthony Felder said. "Last year was like a dagger through the heart a sour taste in your mouth for 365 days. As a senior, you want to leave your legacy that you having beat Stanford. And after seeing our fans rush the field, it's awesome."

The Bears exited Memorial Stadium with a complete victory over the Cardinal. They never trailed, with Stanford only getting to within one possession for less than four minutes. Early in the fourth quarter, the Cal lead swelled to 34 points.

Yet that kind of lopsided game seemed unimaginable early on.

After one quarter, the Bears had a measly 3-0 advantage and, outside of Jahvid Best's 60-yard run on the game's second play, only managed 34 total yards of offense. Worse still, Cal's leading receiver in the frame was quarterback Kevin Riley, who caught his own pass following a deflection and ran for an extra six yards.

That stagnancy opened the door for Stanford, which fought off early malaise to put together three consecutive drives of 11 plays or more.

However, no Cardinal players had much success once they crossed into Cal's red-zone.

Of their three first-half red-zone chances, only one resulted in points--a 25-yard field goal by Aaron Zagory to end the half, coming after the Bears held tailback Toby Gerhart out of the end zone on two straight carries. The other two scoring opportunities failed, thanks to a missed Zagory field goal and forced fumble by Tyson Alualu on Gerhart.

"That was huge," Tedford said of his team's first-half defense. "That game could've gone either way right then. (Stanford) put together three really good drives. I thought the defense did a nice good job of stiffening. Caused the fumble, really came up big on the goal line stand at the end of the half to limit them to three points. A nice job of a bend-not-break type thing."

Once the Bears made it to halftime with a 10-3 lead, they poured it on.

Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard threw an interception on the opening play of the third quarter. Six plays later, Cal capitalized on the turnover to take a 17-3 lead with a one-yard touchdown pass from Riley to Cameron Morrah.

Each of Stanford's next two possessions resulted in three-and-outs. And each time, the Bears countered with two-play touchdown drives.

The first score came via a hook-and-ladder from Verran Tucker to Best. The next began with a 42-yard reverse to Jeremy Ross and finished with Best again, on a six-yard run to paydirt.

With 7:52 left in the third quarter, Cal had turned a satisfactory 10-3 halftime lead into an insurmountable one at 30-3.

"We kind of broke the game open in the third quarter, especially," Tedford said.

Best had perhaps the biggest hand in doing so. The sophomore, who didn't play in last year's Big Game due to a hip injury, told coach Jeff Tedford he felt "great" in warm-ups.

And it showed. The swift-footed back finished with 201 yards on 19 carries, enough to push his season total over 1,000 yards. He wound up with the team's most receptions (three for 35 yards) and accounted for three of the Bears' five touchdowns.

Best couldn't, however, put his finger on why he had a little extra pep in his step on Saturday.

"I honestly don't know what it is," he said. "Maybe it was just because it was because it was the Big Game or something. But God helped me this game and I'm feeling great."

So too was Cal's defensive unit following the dominating win. Though Gerhart ultimately gained 103 yards--and became Stanford's all-time single-season rushing leader in the process--the Bears held the Cardinal well below its season rushing average of 206 yards per game, thanks to a number of standout efforts. Felder led the way with 13 tackles, while Alualu pitched in eight and Marcus Ezeff and Worrell Williams each had seven takedowns.

Though Pritchard finished with 306 passing yards, nothing came easy. The junior was picked off three times in the second half by Young, Ezeff and Mike Mohamed, and was harassed constantly.

In terms of pressure, Follett lead the charge, backing up his prediction with 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks and five tackles for the loss. Davis, not to be outdone, had two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks--and maybe most importantly, one axe. The 25-year old senior rushed across the field as the game clock ticked down to claim his prize and refused to give up the Axe to police, parading it around the field.

"I wasn't going to let it go," Davis said of his postgame celebration. "I was letting everyone know that we won this Axe and we're holding it tight. Last year, when we lost to Stanford, they grabbed the Axe from us and did all the hoopla. So, you know we got to get back at them ... and get our Axe back."


Contact Jack Ross at [email protected]

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