BERKELEY, Calif. — Now California knows how Washington State felt last year.
The Cougars, who had considerable growing pains in their first year under Mike Leach in 2012, laid some of those woes on the Bears and their first-year coach, Sonny Dykes, Saturday afternoon, running away to a 44-22 victory over the Bears.
Washington State, leading only 21-15 at the half, had two key third-quarter touchdowns, one on a long drive, the other on a quick strike, to take a 38-22 lead early in the fourth quarter.
It’s the earliest WSU (4-2) has four victories since the 2003 season. The 2006 team, which went 6-6 but didn’t go to a bowl game, got its fourth victory on Oct. 7. Cal fell to 1-4 and hasn’t beaten an FBS team.
On their second possession of the third quarter, the Cougars moved from their 22 to the Cal 40. Then quarterback Connor Halliday threw to Isiah Myers, who shed the attempted tackle of cornerback Isaac Lapite and turned it into a 30-yard gain. Teondray Caldwell then ran through a big hole created by the right side of the line for a 10-yard score and it was 28-15.
The WSU defense stiffened after two Cal first downs, and then the offense exploded against a Cal secondary crippled by injuries.
Halliday threw a seam route to 234-pound JC transfer Vince Mayle, who caught the ball and blew through the tackle of 5-foot-11, 180-pound freshman safety Cameron Walker. Mayle then outlegged Lapite to the end zone and it was 35-15, WSU.
WSU allowed a 53-yard bomb from freshman quarterback Jared Goff to James Grisom, who turned around cornerback Damante Horton, as Cal closed to 35-22.
But the Cougars, with two long Andrew Furney field goals, bought some breathing room and eased home on an 80-degree Indian summer day.
It was a stout effort by Halliday, who was taken from the field limping badly last week against Stanford, but practiced all week and didn’t seem the worse for the wear on this day. The WSU offensive line kept him mostly unscathed and Cal, surprisingly, didn’t bring much pressure.
A first half with many twists and turns ended with Washington State on top 21-15 after the Cougars amassed 177 yards on their first two drives but squandered most of a 14-0 lead.
Halftime stats were themselves off the charts. Cal’s Goff threw for 345 yards on 21 of 34, and Chris Harper caught 173 yards worth of passes on eight receptions. Halliday, starting hot but struggling some in the second quarter, went 19 of 33 for 277 yards with one interception.
The half was marked by two Cal fumbles inside the WSU 10, both recovered — and one caused — by WSU defensive tackle Toni Pole.
WSU appeared to have firm control, in front by two touchdowns and with field position at its 49. But the Cougars simply couldn’t cover well enough in the secondary to keep the Bears at bay.
After Cal’s Daniel Lasco fumbled at the WSU 8 on the Bears’ first drive, the Cougars came out aggressively, intent on testing Cal deep. Halliday threw three deep balls on the drive, the last one for a 35-yard score to Mayle.
A swing pass from Halliday to running back Marcus Mason for 41 yards sparked the second drive, and a 5-yard scoring run from Jeremiah Laufasa made it 14-0 with 4:21 left in the first quarter.
The Bears went three-and-out, and that’s when the Cougars could have really put some distance on Cal, but WSU followed with its own three-and-out. Halliday, sharp early, now seemed to be missing receivers.
Cal’s second fumble was even more unlikely than the first. On the third of three running plays from the WSU 1, Brendan Bigelow was stripped by Pole and gave it up at the WSU 2.
Then the Cougars obliged with a strange play call, running Teondray Caldwell laterally to the right. He was hauled down in the end zone by Seattle product Deandre Coleman and Cal had a safety for its first score.
The Bears added a field goal to make it 14-5, but the Cougars had a promising drive going at the Cal 26 midway through the second quarter. That’s when Halliday, throwing on third-and-three, looked to Bobby Ratliff but was picked off by safety Michael Lowe. On the second play after the turnover, from the Cal 11, Cal scored on an 89-yard pass from Goff to Harper, who first got behind Horton, then easily sidestepped safety Taylor Taliulu, to make it 14-12.
With just 64 seconds left in the first half, Mason caught a little flare pass from Halliday to the right, reversed field and found open space for a 68-yard touchdown, and WSU seemed to have breathing room at 21-12.
But the Cougars gave up three points in a hurry. Goff, falling down in the arms of a Cougar, managed a 20-yard pass to receiver Stephen Anderson, and a moment later, Kenny Lawler turned around linebacker Tana Pritchard and the Bears had another 29-yard gain. They eventually settled for a second field goal from Vincenzo D’Amato.
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