California outlasts BYU for 21-18 win
PROVO, Utah (AP) — Grinding out wins with tough defense and just enough offense is becoming a trademark for California.
The Bears followed that script a second time in a 21-18 victory over BYU on Saturday night. After seemingly turning a corner with their offense in a win against Arizona a week earlier, the Cougars came crashing down to Earth.
California held BYU to 94 total yards and four first downs in the second half and snagged a pair of interceptions for good measure. For the second straight game, the Bears did not allow an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter.
“You can just tell that this team and this defense really wants to just come and play every day and really dominate the football every single play,” Bears linebacker Evan Weaver said.
Weaver helped set the tone with 12 tackles and three pass breakups. Jaylin Hawkins and Traveon Beck each had an interception.
Cal’s effort on defense helped the offense take control with long second-half drives. The Bears held the ball for nearly 11 ½ minutes in the third quarter alone after having the ball for just 10:18 in the first and second quarters combined.
“We were stringing drives together,” California coach Justin Wilcox said. “Even if we didn’t get the points, that was a possession game. We moved the ball down, punted, flipped the field — those type of things — and that’s big.”
Freshman Chase Garbers threw for 176 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 45 yards rushing. Sophomore quarterback Brandon McIlwain ran for 74 yards and a touchdown while also throwing for 38 yards on 5-of-7 passing.
Garbers and McIlwain platooned at quarterback throughout the game and felt like they built a good chemistry with the rest of the offense.
“It was awesome,” McIlwain said. “I loved every minute of it. It was so fun and it worked.”
California (2-0) beat the Cougars in the regular season for the first time in five meetings between the teams.
Tanner Mangum threw for 196 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions for BYU. The Cougars (1-1) lost their home opener for the second time in three seasons — both times to a Pac-12 team.
California went up 7-0 near the end of the first quarter thanks to a pair of big plays. Vic Wharton hauled in a 12-yard pass to convert a fourth down and Patrick Laird followed with a 25-yard touchdown catch on the next play.
BYU got on the board with a 36-yard field goal from Skyler Southam in the second quarter.
The Cougars had 193 total yards and 13 first downs in the first half while holding California to 124 yards and seven first downs. Still, BYU struggled to finish drives, converting just 4-of-10 third downs and 0 for 2 on fourth down.
“We made way too many mistakes and we didn’t have time to fix them by the end of the game,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said.
California extended its lead to 14-3 early in the third quarter when Kanawai Noa scored on a 52-yard catch. Noa got behind a defender along the sideline, hauled in the pass and streaked untouched into the end zone.
McIlwain ran for a 2-yard score to give the Bears an 11-point lead again early in the fourth quarter.
BYU had a chance to cut into the lead after Ghanwoloku recovered his second fumble at the California 16, but Mangum threw a third-down interception.
The Cougars finally scored an offensive TD with 51 seconds left on a 1-yard strike from Mangum to Brayden El-Bakri. Cal’s Jaylin Hawkins recovered the ensuing onside kick to prevent BYU from having a shot at a go-ahead score.
“We played well but we didn’t play our game,” BYU linebacker Butch Pau’u said. “We have some things to fix. We do believe that we’re a better team.”
California’s defense shut down an opponent when it mattered once again. The Bears did not allow a first-half touchdown for the second consecutive game. They also held BYU to just 11 total yards on six plays in the third quarter.
BYU came through with some big plays on defense and special teams. It could not offset a mediocre offensive performance. The Cougars were stuck in neutral on most drives, much like a year ago, and struggled to keep their defense off the field.
Several California players reached key milestones in the win over BYU.
Kanawai Noa eclipsed 1,000 career receiving yards after tallying 93 yards and a TD on seven catches. Noa now has 1,006 yards. His touchdown catch was the longest play from scrimmage for the Bears this season.
Vic Wharton collected his 100th career reception and finished with four catches overall. Patrick Laird added a career-high seven receptions for 53 yards.
Chase Garbers made his first career start at quarterback in place of Ross Bowers. Bowers, who started against North Carolina, did not see any playing time against BYU. The junior was the leading returner in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (253.3) and completions per game (22.67) coming into the season.
Bowers did not factor into the game plan against the Cougars. Wilcox went with Garbers and McIlwain, in part, because of their running ability.
“It’s nothing Ross hasn’t done,” Wilcox said. “He’s disappointed and it’s tough and I don’t blame him one bit. He’s handled himself extremely well because it’s not the easiest position to be in, but that was the plan today, to get those guys (in the game).”
California hosts Idaho State, a FCS opponent, on Saturday.
BYU travels to No. 5 Wisconsin on Saturday.
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