In the 2016 edition of Big Game the Stanford Cardinal rolled into Berkeley looking for their 7th straight win over the California Golden Bears. The Bears had 6 losses coming into Big Game and were battling for bowl eligibility and desperately needed a win.
After winning the toss Cal elected to defer and go on defense first. It would become evident that Cal would be willing to trade field position for keeping the ball out of Christian McCaffrey’s hands. Stanford’s opening drive to start the game but it only went for 6 plays before DeVante Wilson sacked Keller Chryst to end the drive. When the Bears took over, Davis Webb hit a slanting Chad Hansen who found a hole in the Stanford secondary and sprinted 70 yards for the touchdown.
Despite the early torching the Cardinal did not lose their resolve. Stanford lined back up on offense now trailing but with great field position. On the first play Chryst dropped back and found Greb Taboada for 29 yards taking Stanford all the way to Cal’s 16. On the second play of the drive Chryst lined up in the shotgun, took the snap, faked the hand off to McCaffrey who ran to the left, most of the Cal defenders bit and pursued McCaffrey. While the defense was chasing McCaffrey, Chryst had the ball and was running the other way, easily scampering into the end zone to tie the game at 7.
Both teams would exchange two punts and the game would be tied at 7 at the end of the first quarter. At the start of the second quarter Cal was once again knocking on the door. The Bears used elite speed coupled with poor tackling and penalties from Stanford to keep the chains moving. Cal running back Tre Watson would take advantage of that poor tackling to power his way into the end zone from 7 yards out. The Bears would go back on top 14-7.
Stanford would go back to work grinding the ball on the ground with McCaffrey and Bryce Love. The drive was highlighted by a huge 31-yard run by McCaffrey taking Stanford into the red zone. After a couple more runs Chryst would hit Dalton Shultz for the touchdown. Conrad Ukropina would tie the game up again with an extra point.
After punts from both teams and a missed field goal by the Bears, Stanford had the ball with 1:59 left to in the half and a tie ball game. It wasn’t a particularly great drive but it was enough to get them close enough for a Conrad Ukropina field goal to end the half. The Cardinal would head into the break with a 17-14 lead.
The Cardinal defense would force another punt and the Bears would once again have their quarterback Davis Webb punt. Webb does not necessarily have the greatest leg but keeping Webb and the Cal offense on the field on fourth down forces the Stanford defense to stay on the field. More importantly it keeps Christian McCaffrey off the field in punt return situations. Webb was having a great afternoon pinning the Cardinal deep inside their own territory.
Stanford would start at their own 8 and McCaffrey would run for 2 yards bringing up 2nd and 8 from their own ten. Stanford once again lined up the ogre package and once again would hand the ball off to McCaffrey but on this attempted he finally found a crease and took the ball 90 yards to the house for a touchdown. Stanford would lead 24-14 with most of the second half remaining.
Cal would respond with a field goal to get things back to a 1-score game. Once again though, and tell me if you’ve heard this one before, Stanford would go back to work on the ground with McCaffrey, Love, and Chryst. The big 3 on the ground were grinding the Bears’ defense into dust. The Cardinal would burn 5:11 off the clock on a grinding 12-play drive that went for 61 yards and a touchdown. Stanford had a 31-17 lead. At this point in the game McCaffrey had already rushed 24 times for a whopping 263 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. Again, this was still in the 3rd quarter. McCaffrey also had the record for most rushing yards in Big Game history.
Give Cal a ton of credit here, despite trailing by 2 touchdowns Webb led his team 75 yards down the field for another touchdown drive capped off once again by Tre Watson. Stanford would run one more play from the line of scrimmage before the 3rd quarter drew to a close. Stanford had a 7 point lead and the ball with 15 minutes left in the game.
Stanford would start the 4th quarter with a bang when Keller Chryst hit JJ Arcega-Whiteside for a 59 yard pass that put the Cardinal on the Cal 7. A couple of plays later McCaffrey would leap across the goal line for his third touchdown of the game. Stanford went back up by 2 scores leading 38-24 with 12:30 left in the game.
Both teams would again exchange punts and Stanford took possession of the ball at their own 40 with 7:14 left in regulation. Stanford once again drove the ball down the field with an assist from a pass interference call. Keller Chryst would cap off the drive with a 30 yard touchdown to Trenton Irwin. It was Irwin’s first reception of the game and his first touchdown of the season.
Stanford was up 21 with just over 4 minutes left to play and the Cal fans were headed for the exits.
Cal would go on to score another touchdown in less than a minute making it 45-31 with 3 minutes left. The Bears would fail to connect on the onside kick. The Cardinal would have the ball in Cal territory with a two touchdown lead with less than 3 minutes left.
Cal did have time outs left but opted not to use them. Stanford would run out the clock and take home the Axe with a 45-31 Victory.
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