Cal officially ended its nine-game Big Game losing streak late Saturday afternoon. But for all intents and purposes that streak ended Thursday night. That’s when Chase Garbers was cleared to play in Saturday’s game at Stanford Stadium.
Without Garbers, the Bears no doubt would have lost to the Cardinal. With Garbers and his history-making game-winning scoring drive capped by a 16-yard touchdown run, the Bears pulled out a memorable 24-20 win over Stanford, their first victory over the Cardinal since 2009.
Former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers was impressed enough with Garbers' game-winning run that he tweeted a video of it:
Nikko Remigio had nine catches for 157 yards and a touchdown in a career-best performance included the key block on Garbers’ game-winning TD run. And he was seen crying with emotion after the game.
But even he could not steal the spotlight from Garbers, who was the unquestioned hero of the 122nd Big Game.
The numbers don’t lie. Cal is 5-0 this season when Garbers plays more than one half of a game, and the Bears are 1-5 when he doesn’t play at least a half. The schedule plays a factor in that discrepancy, but the bigger factor is Garbers.
His Saturday statistics tell part of the story: 20-for-30 for 285 yards, one touchdown no interceptions, to go along with a game-high 72 rushing yards.
But quarterbacks are remembered for their production in the closing minutes of close games. And Garbers came through big by directing a 75-yard touchdown drive after Stanford had taken a 20-17 lead with 2:23 remaining in the game.
“Gutsy, tough,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said in describing Garbers’ late-game performance in the video below. “The throws that he made on that last drive and the scramble for the touchdown, those were huge plays.
“I think people are going to talk about that drive for a while.”
Garbers showed not fear at the start of the drive.
“In the huddle we kept saying, ‘We’ve done this before’ going back to Washington when we had a game-winning drive,” He said.
Indeed, in the second game of the season, Cal trailed the Huskies by two points in Seattle when Cal took over at its 25-yard line with 2:05 remaining. Garbers proceeded to lead the Bears 74 yards for the game-winning field goal with eight second remaining.
Saturday’s final drive may have been better, because it ended the Bears’ nine-game Big Game losing streak and made Cal (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) bowl-eligible. And again the Bears and Garbers did it on the road.
The win also ensured that the Bears would finish the season with a better overall record than Stanford (4-7, 3-6) for the first time since 2008. A win against UCLA next week would allow the Bears to finish ahead of the Cardinal in the conference standings for the first time since 2008.
Saturday's game-winning drive started at the Bears’ 25-yard line with 2:23 remaining, right after Ryan Sanborn had kicked a 44-yard field goal to put Stanford ahead by three points.
The drive went like this:
--Garbers completion to Remigio for 14 yards.
--Garbers completion to Remigio for 10 yards.
--Garbers sacked for 2-yard loss.
--Garbers completion for 37 yards to Trevon Clark, who made an outstanding catch while staying inbounds on the right sideline despite tight coverage.
--Garbers incompletion intended for Remigio.
--Garbers goes back to pass, then scrambles to the left, gets an outstanding block by Remigio, and runs in for a touchdown with 1:19 left to make it 24-20.
Garbers did not divulge the full name of the play that resulted in the touchdown, providing the partial name of “stick.” Not a memorable name for a memorable play.
All that was left was a defensive stop of Stanford running back Cameron Scarlett on a fourth-and-1 play from the Stanford 34-yard line.
Stanford coach David Shaw knew Garbers would be handful after learning late in the week that Garbers might be Cal’s quarterback on Saturday.
“I knew if there was a chance, he was going to play,” Shaw said in the video below. “We anticipated that once he was practicing he was going to play, and that his legs were going to be a major factor, and they were.
“He makes a difference in the games he plays in with his legs.”
Early in the week, it appeared Garbers would not play in the Big Game after leaving with an unspecified injury in the second quarter of Cal's loss to USC last Saturday. But he practiced some early in the week and was cleared late in the week, and when he was medically cleared there was no question that he would be the starter.
Garbers had played in only those two quarters since leaving the Sept, 27 game against Arizona State in the second quarter. But there was no rust on the third-year sophomore, who seems to get better every game.
For Cal to ensure its second straight winning season, it needs to beat UCLA in Pasadena next Saturday night. And hope Garbers does not get hurt.