BERKELEY, California - California junior quarterback Joe Ayoob has been criticized for his lackluster play. He quieted some of those critics in the fourth quarter Saturday. Ayoob threw four touchdown passes, including two in the final 5:19 of the game, as the 23rd-ranked Golden Bears rallied for a 42-38 triumph over Washington State in a Pac-10 Conference contest.
Ayoob, who completed 19-of-35 passes for 274 yards with two interceptions, was thrust into the starter's role after redshirt freshman Nate Longshore broke his ankle in the season opener. After leading the team to wins in the first five games, Ayoob has been under fire for mediocre play in back-to-back conference losses.
He was staring at more criticism as the Cougars (3-4, 0-4 Pac-10) scored 28 straight points en route to a 38-28 lead in the fourth quarter. Washington State had a chance to finish off Cal, but a failed fake punt gave the Golden Bears new life near midfield instead of being pinned back at their goal line.
"We talked all week about believing and staying together as a team," jubilant Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "I am very proud of the way that there was never any quit."
Two plays later, Ayoob connected with freshman walk-on LaReylle Cunningham, who had five catches for 112 yards, on a 57-yard TD strike to cut the deficit to three points with just over five minutes left. On Cal's next possesion, Ayoob hit Lavelle Hawkins with a seven-yard score with only 1:50 left.
"We got out there and got the ball," Ayoob said. "Washington State had a good second half, but we made the big play at the end. This is my first time for an exciting win like this."
"Joe played very well," Tedford, who showed more emotion perhaps any game this year, admitted. "To hang in there and keep throwing strikes down the stretch, real proud of those last few drives that he put together."
Cal (6-2, 3-2) had a 28-10 lead at the start of the third quarter. But Cougars quarterback Alex Brink threw three third-quarter scores to wideout Jason Hill and a fourth-quarter strike to Chris Jordan to give the visitors the 10-point advantage.
"We showed some good determination and made it a game," Brink said. "Jason Hill is a good player and he made big plays."
Brink was 17-of-38 for 422 yards and five TDs with two interceptions. Hill finished with six grabs for 240 yards and the three scores, which brought his career total to a school-record 23.
"He's a great receiver," Cougars coach Bill Doba said. "We threw some balls to him and he made some great catches."
It was the second straight week Washington State has blown a double-digit fourth quarter lead against a ranked opponent. The Cougars held a 17-point advantage against then No. 12 UCLA before losing 44-41 in overtime.
"We've tried everything," Doba said. "If I knew (what to do), I'd write a book an make a lot of money."
"I know we are good enough to win," Brink said. "We could have only lost one game this season. We can play with anybody in this league."