For whatever reason, games against the Cal Golden Bears seem to bring out the crazy. After 2014's tilt ended 49-45 on an Anu Solomon Hail Mary, this year's edition had much to live up to.
That crazy came in the form of a game-changing interception/fumble sequence in the middle of the third quarter that reinvigorated an anemic Wildcat offense, propelling them to a 24-17 win in front of an Arizona Stadium crowd of 44,253.
"That went from good play to bad play to great play," linebacker Colin Schooler said of the topsy-turvy play. "The more pressure we put on quarterbacks, the more turnovers we can get."
The defense would also come up huge twice in the fourth quarter: first on a goal-line, fourth down stop of the Bears that preserved the 'Cats' fragile three-point lead, then again by forcing a fumble as the Bears were driving late in the game.
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With the loss, Cal moves to 3-2 overall this year and 1-1 in Pac-12 play. The opening quarter saw the 'Cats' best offensive start to the season, with the Bears scrambling to stop both the air and ground attack.
Arizona (3-3 overall, 2-1 Pac-12), on the back of an impressive opening drive from Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, took a 10-0 lead going into the second quarter. However, the Bears would answer back, scoring 14 consecutive points in the second quarter to grab hold of the lead.
Tate, who had been limited in recent weeks by a nagging left ankle injury, threw for 90 yards and a touchdown in the first half and showed signs of his old self, cutting and juking defenders. He would finish the evening with a touchdown on 141 yards passing and a season-high 40 yards rushing.
"No," Tate said when asked after the game if he had been hurt. "That was something we were working on throughout the week."
Still, Tate suffered a big second-quarter hit that forced him out for a series. On the Wildcats' first drive of the second quarter, backup freshman quarterback Jamarye Joiner was inserted into the game.
"We are getting better every day, and we're starting to fill in those holes of things we can get better at," Tate said.
The night, however, belonged to Arizona's defense, who kept a clean sheet through the first quarter and accounted for four turnovers (three interceptions and a recovered fumble), and outscored the offense 14-10.
Cal's do-everything quarterback Brandon McIlwain would be responsible for both his teams' scores, the first on a 25-yard run to bring the score to 10-7 and then again for a 23-yard scamper to close the half.
McIlwain, who came into the season somewhat unheralded and is part of a two-quarterback system, ended the night as the duel-threat quarterback to look out for in the future. He finished with 251 yards passing and 80 yards rushing, with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
The second half began slowly, with both teams trading punts and field position until Colin Schooler intercepted a McIlwain pass and attempted to return it for extra yards.
Schooler finished second on the night in total tackles, with eight and assisting on many more, and nearly picked off a second pass from McIlwain later in the game.
"Everybody on our team works so hard," Schooler said. "I just feel like were doing a better job on those 50-50 balls, and if we keep going, hard things will go our way."
Following the game, head coach Kevin Sumlin said he was proud of his defense's effort.
"I thought that was a really gutty performance. That's two weeks a row in the second half that the guys have played really, really well," Sumlin said.
Although he was critical of the defense's efforts in the first half, especially on third down situations, Sumlin made sure to bring attention to how the unit had produced points.
"There has to be a growing confidence for guys who had a good game tonight," he said. "We know we have to keep getting better ... as long as we have that thought process we can continue to win games."
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