BERKELEY — Cal coach Justin Wilcox went for it and he had no regrets.
After his Bears pulled within one point in the second overtime against Arizona on Saturday night,
Wilcox opted for a two-point try to win it: Freshman linebacker Colin Schooler leaped at the back of the end zone to knock away Ross Bowers’ pass intended for Jordan Duncan and the Wildcats escaped with a 45-44 victory.
“I felt like it was the best chance for us to win the game,” the Bears’ first-year coach said. “You can dispute it but I would do it again.”
None of Cal’s players had any complaint about their coach’s aggressive call.
“That says he has confidence in us,” said running back Vic Enwere, who powered through three Arizona defenders from the 1-yard line to put the Bears on the doorstep of a second straight victory in the second overtime. “A guy can look you in the eye and say, ‘I believe in you,’ and I respect that.”
Cal went with an empty backfield and five wideouts for the final play. Bowers called timeout, but the Bears returned from the sideline with their offense.
Duncan crossed from the right and was in front of the goal posts when Bowers’ pass arrived. Schooler leaped and broke up the play, sealing the win.
“We took it kind of personally how they thought that they could go for two when they didn’t need to,” Schooler said. “Luckily they didn’t get it.”
Bowers said he liked the matchup. “It was just unfortunate that they made more plays than we did,” he said. “On that play it kind of showed what the whole game was like.”
This was the latest in a long line of crazy games between the two schools. They played four overtimes back in 1996, then two overtimes a year later. In 2014, in their most recent meeting, Arizona rallied from 18 points down entering the fourth quarter to win 49-45 on a Hail Mary pass on the final play.
This one didn’t look anything like those for quite a while. It seemed to belong to Arizona (5-2, 4-1) and sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate, who had lit up the college football world with 557 rushing yards the previous two games.
He had 137 of the Wildcats’ 345 rushing yards and was 10 for 15 for 166 passing yards and two scores.
“We missed a couple of plays on him and he made us pay for it,” said Cal linebacker Jordan Kunaszk.
Tate ran 76 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and delivered a perfectly thrown 56-yard TD in the third. Then he threw 22 yards to Bryce Wolma for what turned out to be the game-winning score in the second overtime.
All that gave him 1,162 yards passing and rushing and 11 touchdowns over the past three games.
But the Bears (4-4, 1-4) nearly stole the show, even after falling behind 21-7 at halftime.
Bowers overcame two first-half interceptions — one of them in the Arizona end zone — to pass for 301 yards. He threw an 8-yard TD to big Malik McMorris in the third quarter, ran 4 yards for a score later in the period, then delivered a 13-yard scoring strike to Kanawai Noa in the first OT.
That one wouldn’t have been possible except that senior Matt Anderson converted a career-long 52-yard field goal with 1:41 left in the fourth quarter, and safety Ashtyn Davis picked off a pass from Tate at the 1-yard line with 26 seconds left.
Wilcox liked his club’s fight, but said the Bears need to play better.
“I do believe in them,” he said. “Our offense did a really nice job all night, other than the two turnovers. We didn’t play well enough, especially on defense, to win today.”