When the season first was announced, we all knew there was a chance at some special moments for this Stanford Cardinal team. However, after two lackluster performances and a slew of COVID-19-related issues during the first three weeks of action, all hope was seemingly lost.
Focus shifted to the other athletic programs playing their sports this fall-winter season. And yet, the Cardinal football team stayed the course.
And after knocking off the Oregon State Beavers, 27-24, on Saturday night, the Cardinal finished the season with three consecutive wins that included knocking off a top-25 team and de facto Pac-12 North Champion Washington. Those wins also including the returning of The Axe and defeating a Beavers team after spending two straight weeks away from home. Not just ‘away from home’ in the normal sense, but literally away from home, staying in hotels and practicing in public parks or high school stadiums in both Seattle and Corvallis.
Stanford’s final season record stands at 3-2 and in third place of the North, just a game behind the Huskies in overall record.
As great as the regular season has ended, this team has done little to impress on the surface, however. But as you dig a bit deeper, you realize just how special those three wins are.
First to mind comes the aforementioned fact of the Cardinal literally being away from home since 12 days ago when they left for Seattle on a Monday ahead of a Saturday game against Washington. Then they left for Corvallis and have quite literally not been at home in nearly two full weeks, taking part in two high-level football games in the process.
Then there are the COVID-19 related issues. Not just the fact that Santa Clara County essentially required the team to have to play on the road, but the actual individual players who had been available all season long. No team went without issue this year in the Pac-12 but after QB Davis Mills was given a ‘false positive’ test result in Week 1 against Oregon, Mills took a bit to respond and a bit to get back into playing shape while having to go up against teams who had played a game or multiple games prior to his playing even a full half of football.
On defense, some new faces emerged for the Cardinal after losing Paulson Adebo before the season to the draft. While some players did struggle in Weeks 1 and 2, some players shined bright in those games, and continued to shine throughout the season.
Levani Damuni, who set a career-high 10 tackles against Oregon State, being one of them. After dominating on limited snaps against Oregon in Week 1, he certainly played his way to more action during the season and the sophomore could be one of the conference’s best next season.
A couple of upperclassmen in Gabe Reid and Curtis Robinson each played well over stretches of the 2020 season — but most notably combined on the game-sealing forced fumble and fumble recovery to end Oregon State’s final drive. The forced fumble was Reid’s first of his career while the recovery was the first of Robinson’s career as well.
Prior to injury, Salim Turner-Muhammad was also turning heads at defensive back and he should also be considered a front-runner for one of the better playmakers in the secondary come next season. He didn’t allow a touchdown and had two pass breakups in his coverage this season.
Speaking of stepping up, some young Cardinal wide receivers each had their time to shine in some limited action, again most notably against OSU. With Osiris St. Brown sidelined since Week 1 and Michael Wilson and Connor Wedington out for the game against the Beavers, Stanford was left with Simi Fehoko, Brycen Tremayne and Elijah Higgins to man the outside for Mills.
Tremayne, Higgins and Fehoko each tied or set new career-highs for receptions in the process. Tremayne set a career-high four catches for 58 yards and had a career-long 40-yard reception in the process. Higgins matched his career-high with five catches and Fehoko tied his career-high with six receptions.
Fehoko showed incredible promise all season long and set a new career-high with 110 receiving yards in the game against Oregon State.
Simi Fehoko is trouble for DBs pic.twitter.com/0t64tVoOae— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) November 14, 2020
He has an incredible release at the line of scrimmage and with more time to work on timing and routes, Fehoko and Mills could very well become one of the top QB-WR combinations in the nation, not just the Pac-12. That’s a testament to Fehoko just as much as it is to Mills. But, of course, that all depends on what Mills’ does after this season pertaining to the draft or retaining the free year of eligibility to return in 2021.
And how about Jet Toner? After missing four kicks against Oregon in Week 1, Toner kicked the game-winning field goal against Oregon State and in doing so, increased his place in Stanford history:
- 54 career field goals ranks third (passed Eric Abrams for sole possession of third place)
- 274 career points is third in Stanford history (passed Stepfan Taylor in this game)
Toner also extended his school record of consecutive extra points made with 112 after finishing 1-1 on PAT attempts.
Overall for Stanford in 2020, they’re but a win away from equalling their win total from a season ago, a season that had 12 games in it. With the trials, tribulations and everything else that came from playing a football season during a global pandemic, it’s truly something special, and something they can hang their hats on.