The Arizona Wildcats went out of the state of Arizona for the last time in the regular season when they traveled to California. The Wildcats were looking for their sixth win of the game and came away with the 33-28 victory, becoming bowl eligible for the second year in a row.
Arizona won the toss and elected to defer to the second half. Cal elected to receive the football.
California came out firing and got on the board in a hurry. The Golden Bears scored quickly on a twelve-play drive that opened with a six-yard pass from Jared Goff to Chris Harper. Richard Rodgers got the Golden Bears moving with a twenty-yard catch down the middle of the field.
Arizona forced back-to-back incompletions, but negated one of the plays by taking a holding penalty to force Cal into a 3rd and 20. Anthony Lopez was called for pass interference and The Golden Bears were given a first down.
The Wildcats thought that they had gotten the ball back on a fumble by Darren Ervin, but the Golden Bears recovered and followed it up by converting a fourth and two inside the red zone on a screen pass to Rodgers. With the first down in the red zone, Freshman quarterback Jared Goff caught Khalfani Muhammad on a wheel route for the touchdown and the early 7-0 lead.
The lead didn’t last long. Arizona came out giving the ball to Ka’Deem Carey three straight plays as he picked up runs of nine, five, and four. The Wildcats were helped out with an unnecessary roughness penalty as Samajie Grant was hit above the shoulders on a three-yard catch. Carey ran for five more yards before Grant was found again for eleven yards.
B.J. Denker threw his first incompletion of the day to David Richards, but made up for it with a twelve-yard strike to Grant, before running it into the end zone from nine yards out. Jake Smith connected on the PAT to tie the game at seven.
California went three-an-out on its next possession with Goff tossing two incompletions on first and third down with a, Ervin run of five yards sandwiched in the middle.
The Wildcats had a rough series after the good defensive stand. Arizona started strong with a twelve-yard catch by senior Terrance Miller, but then Carey had a 42-yard run called back on a holding penalty. Denker found Grant for six yards and Carey got seven more on the ground, but an incomplete pass forced the punting unit on the field.
Arizona almost had a safety on the following Cal possession as the Golden Bears started on their own nine-yard line. After an incomplete pass, a bad snap forced Goff to pick the ball up in the end zone, but he was just able to get the ball off and was not called for intentional grounding. Another incompletion forced Cal to punt.
Arizona got the ball on California’s side of the field to start the drive and it looked to be moving for a score early. Nate Phillips caught his first pass of the day for two yards before Grant was found for seventeen yards.
After an incompletion Denker found Miller for eight yards and an illegal substitution gave Arizona the first down. Carey pushed forward for two yards, but Denker was sacked for a loss of seven. A pass to Daniel Jenkins out of the backfield got the Wildcats to the three-yard line, but Carey was stuffed at the line on fourth and goal.
The turnover wasn’t all bad news. On the first play of the drive, Ervin was stopped in the end zone on a run and the Wildcats took the 9-7 lead on the safety.
A three-and-out gave the ball back to Cal, but the Golden Bears were victims of their own three-and-out to end the first quarter of play.
Arizona opened the second quarter moving the ball with a fourteen-yard catch. Jenkins and Phillips were both on the receiving end of seven-yard passes, but then things started to fall apart for the drive. Carey was held to just two yards on his first touch of the quarter and Phillips dropped a deep ball. Arizona was called for holding and another incompletion forced fourth down.
On his first field goal attempt of the day, Jake Smith launched a career-long 53-yard field goal straight through the uprights, giving the Wildcats a 12-7 lead.
Arizona’s defense was in full stride, forcing another three-and-out for the Golden Bears. Phillips got a nice jump on the punt return and was able to bring the 44-yard punt back 19-yards before being brought down.
The Wildcats went with a dose of Carey to start the drive, giving it to him back-to-back time to get the first down with five and nine yard runs. Denker found Grant once again for a pickup of eight, but a run by Carey and a reverse to Phillips were both stopped in the backfield.
In a controversial ruling, Arizona was given a first down on a five-yard pass to Richards that looked like he may have not gotten enough yardage for the new set of downs.
Denker and co. used the call to their advantage and marched down the remainder of the field for a score. Denker went for it all on the first down, but was nearly picked off, but then found Richards for nine-yards and then picked up the first down with a quarterback keeper. The touchdown came on the following play when Denker found a wide-open Phillips for a 21-yard score.
Cal wasn’t out of the game yet. After a short pass and an incompletion, Goff found Muhammad for eighteen yards and then Cal went to the ground game. Ervin rushed twice in a row for four and five yards. Daniel Lasco relieved Ervin and immediately ran for fifteen and the first down.
With a new set of downs, Goff found Lawler on a seventeen-yard screen pass and the receiver rumbled into the end zone untouched. The score put Cal within a touchdown as they trailed just 19-14.
The Wildcats started the following drive with promise. Carey broke free for a 21-yard gain, but Arizona wasn’t able to do much else. A nine-yard pass to Miller gave the offense a first down, but a four-yard run from Carey and two incompletions forced a punt.
The Golden Bears started from their own eleven and were forced into a three-and-out despite having Lasco pick up eight yards on the first run of the drive. Arizona gave the ball right back to the Golden Bears after B.J. Denker was sacked on third and six.
California made a push for points as the half was winding to close. Starting on their own ten, Lasco rushed for 22 yards and Goff tossed a six yard completion to Chris Harper before finding Maurice Harris for 27 yards, putting them at the Arizona 35-yard line. Three straight incompletions brought out the field goal unit, but Vincenzo D’Amato missed a 50-yard field goal.
With just fifteen seconds left in the half, Arizona was able to get two strong rushes out of Carey. He got out of bounds with an eleven yarder to start the drive and picked up 17 more putting his team in field goal range with just three seconds remaining. It looked like Smith would top his 53-yarder with a 55-yard field goal, but his kick was just short of the goal posts, despite his accuracy being dead on.
Arizona came out gunning to start the second half. Denker dropped back to pass five of the first six plays, completing just one of the passes. It was a big one. On third and ten, Denker found Miller for a sixty yard catch and run on a screen pass. It put the Wildcats at the California fifteen-yard line. Two plays later, facing another third and long, Carey was manhandled as he went out for a pass and earned a pass interference call.
With the ball at the two, Carey was given two opportunities to get into the end zone. He was unsuccessful. On third and goal, Denker kept it himself and ran in for his second rushing touchdown of the night, extending the lead to 26-14.
Cal wasn’t so productive with its first drive. A nine-yard swing pass to Lasco looked promising, but an incomplete pass set up a Lasco run for a loss of a yard. The Golden Bears elected to punt and got a good one, pinning Arizona on its own seven.
Arizona was able to get twenty yards worth of field position, but eventually wound up a yard short of the first own and punted back to the Golden Bears.
The stop was big for California. Goff immediately found Bryce Treggs for seven yards. Ervin found his way back in the game and rumbled for five yards and the first down. Goff found Treggs again, this time for eleven yards and then again for ten more.
Goff picked up another first down with his own feet, but was hit after sliding by Jourdon Grandon and the Bears were inside the ten-yard line. The freshman quarterback found Lawler on back-to-back passes, one for six yards and another for three. Lawler made a diving one-handed catch on the second ball and got into the end zone, cutting the Arizona lead to 26-21.
Arizona tried to regain momentum, but was unsuccessful. A holding call on the kickoff pinned the Wildcats deep. A fourteen-yard run from Carey gave the offense some room to breathe, but a run for no gain, a sack, and an incomplete pass forced another punt.
On the kick, an Arizona player was blocked out of bounds and the penalty pushed the Bears’ offense back. After two straight incompletions, the freshman quarterback made his first mistake of the night. He threw an interception to Jonathan McKnight.
The Wildcats struck fast after the turnover. Carey picked up nine yards and Denker got the first down with a four-yard keeper. The Heisman candidate was then stopped for no gain on a rush up the middle before Denker pulled the back on second down and scrambled for fourteen yards into the end zone, pushing the lead to 33-21.
California began moving the ball more efficiently on the next drive as the passing game started to open. Lasco ran for three yards before Muhammad and Stephen Anderson caught consecutive passes.
Later in the drive, Cal converted a fourth down on a four-yard pass to Harper. Harper followed it up with an eleven-yard reverse. A sack helped Arizona set up another fourth down after two Lasco runs. On fourth and two, Goff let loose and fired one to the end zone, only to have it picked off by Grandon.
The Wildcats had a chance to put the game away with the turnover. Carey rumbled for five yards and Grant added on another eleven-yard catch. Carey was stuffed at the line, but a 17-yard run from Denker kept the drive alive.
Denker tried to make it happen on the ground, but was pushed to the outside and gained just one yard on the play before Carey was stopped in the backfield for a loss of seven. Facing third and twelve, Denker found Richards on the sideline, but he could only get nine and it wasn’t enough to get the first down. Arizona took a delay of game penalty and elected to punt.
Starting from his own sixteen, Lasco picked up three on his first run before Goff just overthrew Treggs on a deep route. Third down was a big play for both team and Arizona came away on the winning end of it. Goff threw an incomplete pass, but Brendan Bigelow was called for a personal foul after the play and the Golden Bears were forced to punt with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
Arizona was held to a three-and-out and was forced to punt, giving California one last chance to close the gap before it got too late.
It wasn’t over yet. Consecutive passes to Lasco set up a fourteen-yard strike to Treggs. Two plays later, Goff hit Lawler on a 29-yard lob for a touchdown. The score cut Arizona’s lead to just five at 33-28.
With less than two minutes remaining in the game, the onside kick was unsuccessful for California as Jonathan McKnight covered up the ball to retain possession. Arizona gave the ball to Carey on first down and he picked up two.
Needing a first down to seal the game, Carey burst through the hole in the offensive line for seventeen yards. It allowed Denker to kneel the ball and run out the clock, giving the Wildcats their sixth win of the season.