BERKELEY – Redshirt freshman wide receiver Kenny Lawler caught three touchdown passes, including one that cut the deficit to five points with 1:42 remaining, but Cal fell to Arizona 33-28 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Freshman quarterback Jared Goff tossed a career-high four touchdown passes while sophomore wide receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs each moved into the top-10 on Cal’s single-season receptions list.
Two of Lawler’s TD catches came in spectacular fashion. His 3-yard scoring grab late in the third quarter was a one-handed diving play. His final score came when he out-jumped an Arizona defender in the corner of the end zone.
“Kenny is starting to come on a little bit,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “His ball skills are pretty special. He can do some pretty special things catching the football. He just has to get a little stronger, work hard and get a little more mature. When those things happen, he has a chance to be pretty special.”
After Lawler’s final touchdown catch made it 33-28, the Bears (1-8, 0-6 Pac-12) attempted an onside kick which was recovered by Arizona. The Wildcats notched one first down and were able to run out the clock.
It marked the first time a Cal receiver caught three TD passes in a game since DeSean Jackson in 2006. They were the first touchdowns of Lawler’s career.
“We played a tough game,” Lawler said. “We just have to eliminate the little mistakes and we’ll be good.”
Goff was 34-for-56 for 289 yards and four touchdowns for the Bears, who set the single-season team record for completions and passing attempts during the game. Goff now has 2,881 passing yards this season, good for 5th all-time at Cal.
“It was in our grasp. We just didn’t really grab it,” Goff said. “We just need to play better football in order for us to win games like this. We had a chance to really reach out and grab it and get a nice win against Arizona. We just didn’t take advantage of it.”
Lawler’s second touchdown catch with 3:34 remaining in the third quarter cut Arizona’s advantage to 26-21. But the Wildcats answered with a touchdown with seven seconds remaining in the period to push their lead back to 33-21.
The Bears got off to a strong start, taking the opening kickoff and marching 75 yards on 12 plays and scoring on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Goff to running back Khalfani Muhammad to make it 7-0. On the play before the score, Cal converted a 4th-and-2 from the Arizona 15 on a 4-yard pass from Goff to wide receiver Richard Rodgers.
The Wildcats answered with a scoring drive of their own on their initial possession, going nine plays and getting into the end zone for a 7-7 tie.
The Bears came up with a big defensive stand later in the quarter when they stopped Arizona on 4th-and-goal from the 2, but Arizona made it 9-7 on a safety on the ensuing play.
Arizona made it 12-7 on a 53-yard field goal by Jake Smith early in the second quarter and extended the lead to 19-7 with a touchdown midway through the period.
The Bears, though, stayed right in it. They put together another touchdown drive, this time sparked by their running game. After Darren Ervin rushed twice for nine yards, Daniel Lasco reeled off a 15-yard run down to the Wildcats 19-yard line. Two plays later, Lawler caught his first scoring pass of the afternoon, a 17-yarder from Goff, to slice the deficit to 19-14 with 6:04 remaining before halftime.
The deficit remained five points at the intermission, but the Wildcats extended to 26-14 with a touchdown early in the third quarter.
“Defensively, we feel like we made some plays,” said freshman linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who had nine tackles, including a sack. “We feel like we could have made some more plays to win the game. We’re disappointed because we’ve been working hard and it’s not paying off.”
Harper now has 62 catches, good for a tie for ninth all-time at Cal. Treggs is right behind at 61 for the season, which ranks 10th on the school’s all-time list.