TEMPE, Ariz. -- 671 miles and two hours and 45 minutes before kickoff, Friday night's meeting between California and Arizona State surrendered any significance it may have once held to anyone outside of the two fan bases, thanks to an upset win by Colorado over Utah officially sending UCLA to the inaugural Pac-12 Championship against No. 10 Oregon.
With nothing but pride -- and likely head coach Dennis Erickson's job -- on the line, Arizona State rallied and put on an offensive show, but the Bears were that much better. Cal found offensive balance and quarterback Zach Maynard found his happy zone, as the Bears handed the Sun Devils their fourth straight loss in a 47-38 shootout that saw the two teams combine for 961 total yards of offense
"It was going back and forth, Arizona State is very explosive on offense, very athletic on defense and I'm really proud of our guys for continuing to battle," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, who's team was assured a winning season, regardless of the outcome of a bowl game.
"To come on the road, to play, to travel in a short week, over the holiday and continue to stay focused with what we were doing, I thought it was a great week for us and to end the season - the regular season - like that, it was a great win, because that thing kept going back and forth and that's a gut-check. Everybody kept playing hard and believing and didn't get down when they were moving the ball and just kept battling. It was great to see."
The Bears (7-5, 4-5 in Pac-12) scored on their first three drives of the game -- including a 48-yard field goal by Giorgio Tavecchio -- as the Bears offense looked to have finally found an effective balance, using not only quarterback Zach Maynard's arm, but his legs, as well. Maynard rushed twice for 41 yards in the first quarter, and in keeping defenders honest with the read-option, was able to put the ball into the hands of tailbacks Isi Sofele -- who notched his fifth 100-yard game of the season -- and C.J. Anderson, who became the first Cal player to score at least three touchdowns since Shane Vereen pulled the hat trick last season against Nevada.
"I think Isi, we talk about how Zach has matured through the season, I think Isi has done really well that way, and so has C.J.," Tedford said. "I think it's a great tribute to all the coaches who continue to work with them and prepare them every day, and the fundamentals that the have and the way they practice, I think is just a real tribute to everybody."
Anderson and Maynard turned in perhaps the play of the season with less than four minutes left in the third quarter. On third-and-four at the Cal 26, Maynard took the shotgun snap and was flushed from the pocket. Maynard looked right, but saw defensive end Davon Coleman barreling in. The junior signal-caller scampered left and glanced up field, to see that Anderson had linebacker Shelly Lyons soundly beat. Firing across his body, Maynard lofted a perfect touch ball over Lyons' shoulder and into Anderson's waiting paws. The tailback affectionately known as the 'Bowling Ball,' then rolled right down the field for a 74-yard touchdown strike, putting the Bears up 41-38
"I scrambled out of the pocket, and I was about to run the ball," Maynard said. "He was one-on-one with his guy and his guy committed to me, and I just soft-tossed him the ball and he ran right up under it. I was hoping he was going to look, and he did end up looking and he was gone to the house."
Anderson also rushed 10 times for 48 yards on the day, while Sofele rushed 21 times for 145 yards.
"It was just a regular pass play," Anderson said. "I looked down all my keys, no blitz came, and I ran out and Zach was rolling out, the scramble drill, and in the scramble drill, if you're the first receiver to that side, you've got to roll up, because the receiver's all the way on the other side of the field, so you've got to roll up. I pointed at the open space and -- good thing he saw the point -- he tossed it up there and the rest was in the end zone."
Maynard completed 19 for 26 passes (73.1 percent) for 237 yards on the evening, with nary a fumble nor an interception, as he also added five rushes for 40 yards and a touchdown. Over the past four games, Maynard has completed 62 of 91 passes (68.1 percent) for 763 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception.
"I think, if you took from the Utah game on -- if you took the UCLA game out of there -- and you put the stats together, I think you'd see a quarterback that was playing really, really well," Tedford said. "Great efficiency. He hasn't turned the football over. He managed the offense very, very well, made big plays - both with his legs and with his arm - and I think that his maturation through the season has been great, and knew it was going to come that way."
Maynard largely avoided the opposing secondary, finding little brother Keenan Allen five times for a team-high 61 yards. Maynard spread the ball around to eight different receivers on the night, hitting eight different receivers.
He also benefitted from a run game, which churned out 247 yards on the ground, breaking the double-century mark for the third time in the past four games.
"Isi and C.J. did a great job running the ball today," Maynard said. "That created passing lanes, opened up a little bit more for me. They were more focused on them running the ball. The O-line did a great job blocking and pushing off the ball on run plays. The receivers ran great routes. They got chances to get the ball, and they got them. We got a couple pass interference calls, and that was huge for us. We just kept building momentum and we were unstoppable."
One of those pass interference calls helped the Bears to give themselves breathing room late in the second quarter after the Sun Devils had cut the deficit to 17-14.
Starting at his own 29, Maynard completed two straight passes for 17 total yards to Allen and senior Marvin Jones. Sofele then ran twice to get Cal to midfield. Looking for the big play, Maynard targeted a leaping Jones over the middle 45 yards down field at the Arizona State five-yard line. Jones nearly came down with the ball, but it popped out along with a little yellow hankie, signaling a pass interference on safety Alden Darby.
Anderson then ran for 30 yards on his next three carries to give Cal a 24-14 lead.
"C.J. came in when I needed a break, and I came in when he needed a break," Sofele said. "That kept us out there, 100 percent each time, so that's what coach [Ron] G[ould] wanted to do, and it worked, so we kept doing it."
"With Isi, with the shakes and the wiggles he has, and me being a bruiser, I wear the defense down and Isi just runs around the corner like he always does," Anderson said. "The one-two punch is very good."
With 237 yards gained in the air and 247 on the ground on 40 rushing attempts, with success in the kicking game, to boot, this was the Bears' most balanced effort of the season.
"I haven't seen the stats, but it seemed that way," Tedford said. "It seemed like we were productive in the run game and then made some big plays in the pass game. I thought the receivers played real well. Again, I don't think you can say enough about our offensive line. When that happens, when we're running the ball like that and Zach has time to throw the ball, the protection, run blocking, I thought we had positive yards on almost every run play. I don't know that we may have gotten tackled behind the line of scrimmage once, but very rarely did we. I thought the guys really played well up front again."
The big uglies up front did not allow a single sack and the Sun Devils only recorded five tackles for loss as a team.
Both the line and Sofele came out early and hard, highlighted by a play that many would not have expected out of either at the beginning of the season midway through the first quarter. After an 18-yard kickoff return by Mike Manuel, the Bears had first-and-10 at their own 29. Sofele took the handoff from Maynard and rushed left, trying to turn the corner, but could find no open lanes. Almost at the east sideline, he reversed field, straight into two barreling defenders. Center Dominic Galas and right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin came to the rescue, leveling both defenders as Sofele scampered around the edge and gained 17 yards.
Two plays later, Maynard pulled the ball down on the option and weaved up the left side for a gain of 25, putting Cal firmly in Arizona State territory. After an incompletion to Allen, Maynard found H-back Spencer Hagan, who dragged a defender the final two yards for the first down.
Down to the Sun Devils' 18-yard line, Sofele got the rock, threaded his way through the defensive secondary after bursting through the hole and found paydirt to cap off a six-play, 71-yard drive and give the Bears a 10-7 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, dynamic return man Jamal Miles took the ball at the five-yard line up the middle, then cut right and back left to avoid a diving Marc Anthony, taking the ball back 51 yards and into Cal territory.
The first play of that Arizona State drive, though, would see the first of four Sun Devils turnovers, as defensive end Trevor Guyton stripped sophomore tailback Kyle Middlebrooks after a six-yard gain, for his second forced fumble of the season. That gave senior linebacker Mychal Kendricks the chance to scoop up the itinerant pigskin for a 33-yard return, which set up a three-yard rushing touchdown two plays later on the option by Maynard to give Cal a 17-7 lead. The recovery was the seventh of Kendricks' career and his second of the season.
After the nine-play scoring drive fueled by Anderson, the Bears were able to contain Miles, allowing a small, two-yard return. Earlier in the game, Cal had seen three plays of 20 yards or more get called back because of penalties on offense, but the Bears finally saw a golden opportunity to regain momentum with an interception by Anthony, who was able to pick the ball off in the open field thanks to a hurried throw from Sun Devils quarterback Brock Osweiler, who was pressured by Cecil Whiteside.
An offsides penalty on Arizona State gave Cal a first-and-five at the Sun Devils' 11, but Maynard was unable to hit a long fade route to the back left corner of the end zone to Allen, and then took a four-yard sack to make it third-and-nine at the 15. A pass underneath to Jones got the Bears to the 10-yard line, but they settled for a Tavecchio field goal for three of the 13 points Cal scored off of turnovers.
It was the final drives of the first half, though, that turned the tide towards Arizona State.
Trailing 27-14 with a shade under three minutes remaining in the first half, Arizona State took advantage of two key Cal miscues to score two touchdowns in a 29-second span to go into halftime up 28-27.
Cornerback Steve Williams -- who was picked on much of the night by Osweiler -- went up to break up a deep ball intended for Rashad Ross, and deflected the pass, but was called for pass interference, giving Arizona State the ball at midfield.
The Bears defensive front made a big stand, stoning lead rusher Cameron Marshall and pressuring Osweiler into two incompletions to put the Sun Devils into fourth-and-10 at the Cal 35.
Osweiler -- who finished the day 21-of-37 with two picks for 264 yards and three touchdowns -- dropped back and launched an ICBM into the back right corner of the end zone over a soundly-beaten Sean Cattouse and into Ross's waiting hands for a 35-yard touchdown.
A short, 45-yard kickoff by Alex Garoutte landed in the hands of true freshman Richard Rodgers. Unlike his father - who participated in 1982's The Play - the younger Rodgers ran for just five yards before Coleman knocked him back, with the ball coming loose as Rodgers hit the ground. The play was reviewed and confirmed to be a fumble, leading to a quick 30-yard Arizona State drive highlighted by a 22-yard end-around by Miles and a four-yard touchdown pass from Osweiler to Trevor Kohl.
"They made a push there at the end of the half when we fumbled the ball, and to respond in the second half the way we did, we came up with a couple turnovers," Tedford said.
The Sun Devils benefitted from a pass interference call on Anthony on third-and-11 coming out of the half to drive down to the Bears' 19, but a third-and-nine spinning sack from Kendricks put Arizona State back at the 30, forcing the Sun Devils to settle for a 47-yard field goal from Garoutte on their first drive after the break.
Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict finally made himself known on the second play of the ensuing drive, getting dinged for his first personal foul of the game. Jones then made a leaping grab for a gain of 18, followed by Allen hauling in a catch for a gain of nine. Following that play, senior tight end Anthony Miller went to the deck from an apparent late hit by Deveron Carr, bringing up a first-and-10 at the Arizona State 17.
Sofele took the handoff from Maynard, went right and, finding nothing, reversed field again and, thanks to a big block by the junior quarterback, rumbled down to the Sun Devils' five-yard line for an 11-yard carry.
Anderson carried the ball the final three yards around the right edge untouched to give Cal a 34-31 lead.
Arizona State responded to the Bears' next score -- the 74-yarder by Anderson -- with a 24-yard scoring scamper by Marshall, who finished the game with 157 yards on 23 carries, but also had a key fumble that evened out the flub by Rodgers in the first half.
After a highlight-reel stiff-arm to Burfict by Sofele en route to a 21-yard run to open the fourth quarter, the junior tailback put the ball on the ground inside the Sun Devils' five, but senior fullback John Tyndall pounced on the loose pigskin to save the drive, which was capped off by a chip-shot field goal by Tavecchio from 19 yards out, giving him 14 points on the night. He would end with 17 -- putting him eight points behind Jim Breech for third on the all-time scoring list.
After Tavecchio hit a short 36-yard kickoff into a fair catch by Jordan McDonald, Marshall broke off a big, 22-yard rush on second down, but as he went to the ground, safety D.J. Campbell dislodged the ball, which was recovered by true freshman defensive end Mustafa Jalil. Like the Rodgers fumble before the half, Marshall's play was also reviewed, and confirmed, giving Jalil his first career fumble recovery.
The Bears -- on the backs of Sofele and Anderson -- then bled the clock over a nine-play, 47-yard drive which consumed 5:21, ending in a 30-yard Tavecchio field goal with 3:32 left to all but ice the win.
-- With the win, Tedford moved to 8-1 in his career against Arizona State. Cal clinched a winning record for the ninth time in Tedford's 10 years as head coach.
-- The Bears are 7-1 when Sofele carries the ball at least 18 times. On Friday, he carried the ball 21 times for 145 yards. Sofele tallied his ninth touchdown of the season in the first quarter, and moved into sixth on the all-time Cal single-season list for rushing yards with 1,266. During the game, he passed Vereen (1,167 in 2010), Russell White (1,177 in 1991), Adimchinobe Echemandu (1,195 in 2003) and Marshawn Lynch (1,246 in 2005). Lynch owns the next mark on the list with 1,356 in 2006.
-- With five catches for 61 yards, Allen currently sits in second on the Bears' all-time single-season list in receiving yards with 1,261. Geoff McArthur (1,504 in 2003) is Cal's all-time leader. Allen passed McArthur on the single-season receptions list, and now has 90 on the season. Allen also posted his sixth touchdown of the season (11th of his career) and extended his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 23 -- all the games he's played in his career.
-- Jones extended his streak of games with at least one catch to 37 -- also spanning his entire career. He is now the Bears' active leader in receptions (148), receiving yards (2,182) and receiving touchdowns (13).
-- Anderson scored his seventh and eighth rushing touchdowns of the season, and with his 74-yard scoring reception, notched his first career multi-touchdown game. Over the past four games, Anderson has rushed 32 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns.
"It's just me understanding the offense well," Anderson said. "It's not even just the pass plays. Some of the running plays, it's just trusting coach G's technique and coaching, getting my pads down, actually pressing my spot. For the first couple, when I had my slump, I was kind of doing my own thing and that kind of put me down on the depth chart. Also, being hungry, working my way back up. I'm still hungry to try to get Isi's spot."
-- Maynard moved up Cal's all-time single-season list for total offense (2,959 yards, fourth) and passing yards (2,802, sixth) with his night.
-- Tavecchio has hit 19 of 22 field goals this season after going 4-for-4 on Friday. The last Bears kicker with as many field goals in a season was Mark Jensen, who had 19 in 2002.
-- The 28 points scored by the Sun Devils in the first half were the most the Bears have allowed this season. The 55 points the two squads combined for in the first half marked the first time that many points had been scored in a Cal game since Oct. 17, 2009 against UCLA.
-- The 85 combined points Friday night were the most this season, and the most since 83 combined points were scored on Sept. 17, 2010 in Reno.
-- True freshman Stefan McClure left the game with a knee injury suffered during a kickoff in the second quarter. Tedford said that he will undergo an MRI when the team gets back to Berkeley.