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Cal’s defense comes up big as Bears hold off Washington State 42-39

Golden Bears return two fumbles for touchdowns and record season-high six sacks

By MICHAEL WAGAMAN, Associated Press
Published: November 11, 2023, 8:44pm

BERKELEY, Calif. — California’s defense had its best game of the season, returning two fumbles for touchdowns and recording a season-high six sacks as the Golden Bears beat Washington State 42-39 on Saturday to end a four-game losing streak and keep their slim bowl hopes alive.

Washington State kicker Dean Janikowski missed a pair of field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, including a 48-yarder that was wide left with 50 seconds remaining.

Running back Jaydn Ott rushed for 167 yards and accounted for two touchdowns for Cal (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12). Ott, who went over 1,000 yards for the season, missed a chance at a third score when he fumbled in the end zone. Teammate Brian Driscoll recovered and got the touchdown.

It was Cal’s defense that made the biggest impact despite being on the field for 97 plays and allowing 483 yards.

“Our defense, they all came up big,” said Bears quarterback Fernando Mendoza, who lost a fumble on the Bears opening drive of the second half. “It’s a testament to those guys. I know our defense is elite and it saved the offense today and it saved me.”

Mendoza also had a fairly strong day, completing 14 of 21 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns.

Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward kept the Cougars in it, throwing for 358 yards and three touchdowns. Josh Kelly had nine catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.

The Cougars (4-6, 1-6) have lost six straight since opening the season 4-0.

Cal’s defense has had troubles all season but got a big lift from linebacker Cade Uluave, who forced a fumble on fourth-and-1 and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown.

“You could tell they were trying to quarterback sneak it, and I thought, ‘What if I just go over the top?’” Uluave said. “So I kind of jumped over the top, we were kind of scrambling around. Then the ball popped out. My eyes were wide open.”

Uluave later recovered another Washington State fumble to set up Cal’s fourth touchdown of the first half, then made the game-sealing interception as time ran out in the fourth quarter.

Cal’s defense came up big all day.

Linebacker David Reese sacked Ward and knocked the ball free. Nohl Williams scooped it up and returned it 52 yards to help Cal go up 42-24.

That was big on a day the Bears’ defense committed penalties that wiped out an interception and negated two third-down incompletions.

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The Cougars didn’t go quietly.

Ward threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the second a 5-yard toss to Djouvensky Schlenbaker that pulled Washington State within a field goal with 5:23 remaining. But his Hail Mary attempt was intercepted by Uluave.

“We we’re on the field for a lot of snaps,” Bears coach Justin Wilcox said. “I’m really proud of how the guys fought and competed. We made enough plays to win the game.”


Washington State: The Cougars kept it close despite a rash of self-inflicted mistakes. Ward, in particular, was very sharp, although he was under pressure by Cal’s defense most of the afternoon.

California: The Bears needed a win to keep their bowl hopes alive, and they did that with one of their best all-around games of the season. Cal’s final two games are both on the road and are must-wins to get into the postseason.


Washington State: Hosts Colorado in the Cougars final home game of the season on Nov. 17.

California: Faces rival Stanford in the Big Game on Nov. 18.