Nov 17, 2001
By GREG BEACHAM
STANFORD, Calif. - California probably would have needed a miracle to beat Stanford in the 104th Big Game.
To the surprise of almost everybody at Stanford Stadium, no miracles occurred in the latest edition of one of college football's craziest rivalries.
Chris Lewis threw for 390 yards and four touchdowns as No. 13 Stanford won its seventh straight Big Game, beating winless archrival Cal 35-28 on Saturday.
Though Stanford racked up 568 total yards in a critical victory for its bowl aspirations, against a team playing only for pride and revenge, the game wasn't decided until Cal quarterback Kyle Boller's Hail Mary from midfield was batted down in the end zone as time expired.
Nineteen years after The Play - the famous five-lateral kickoff return - set the standard for amazing football finishes, Cal couldn't find another unbelievable way to beat Stanford.
"It came down to that last play, and wackier things have happened in the Big Game," Stanford receiver Luke Powell said. "I was just relieved when it hit the ground."
Powell caught five passes for 152 yards and two scores as Stanford (7-2, 6-2) struggled tremendously while holding off the downtrodden Golden Bears (0-10, 0-8), who have just one more chance to avoid the school's first winless season since 1897.
"I thought we might have a chance on that last play," said Boller, who once threw a Hail Mary to win a high school all-star game in which Lewis also played. "Not this year, though, I guess."
Teyo Johnson and Brett Pierce also caught TD passes from Lewis in a penalty-plagued, mistake-filled chapter of the West Coast's oldest college football rivalry. The teams combined for nine turnovers, and both squads failed to move the ball or score late in the game.
"We had the toughness, the character, the resiliency to find a way to
win," said Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham, who's never lost to Cal. "You'll
hear me come back to that, because we're only concerned about the final score.
We knew it would come down to the end."
Willingham wasn't nearly as happy in the fourth quarter, when he shared a doleful look with Lewis as the quarterback came to the sideline after another failed drive. Stanford put up gaudy offensive numbers, but most of them were earned on a handful of big plays.
"We both kind of just shook our heads," Lewis said. "We knew we didn't play the way we should play. If our defense hadn't played great, we would have lost the game."
Stanford's winning streak during Willingham's tenure is the longest for either side in the rivalry's 109-year history. The Cardinal retained the Axe - even if the latest victory wasn't exactly a classic.
Washington State's loss to Washington means the Cardinal likely are ticketed for the Seattle Bowl or the Las Vegas Bowl.
Cal has lost 10 games for the first time in school history in the final season for coach Tom Holmoe, whose resignation will take effect after Friday's season finale at Rutgers.
Lewis, 20-of-38 on the most prolific offensive day of his short career, also threw three interceptions - one that was returned for a 16-yard score by Nnamdi Asomugha. Boller threw two interceptions and fumbled.
Third-string Stanford tailback Kenneth Tolon ran for 82 yards, including a 29-yard score. LaShaun Ward had five receptions for 86 yards, catching a 48-yard TD pass from Boller, who was 20-of-46 for 278 yards.
The game's final score came on Ward's touchdown and a 2-point conversion for Cal with 13:01 left. With 6 minutes to play, Johnson fumbled a short pass that was recovered by Cal's Tom Canada at the Stanford 43, but the Bears turned it over on downs.
The teams traded three punts in the final minutes before Cal got to midfield with 2 seconds left, but Boller's Hail Mary never got close to the Bears amid several Stanford defensive backs - including Johnson, a 6-foot-7 two-sport star on the Cardinal's basketball team.
Lewis' third interception midway through the third quarter led to Cal's first offensive TD, with Terrell Williams scoring on a 1-yard dive to pull the Bears to 21-20.
Senior quarterback Randy Fasani, who missed the previous three games with a sprained knee, briefly returned to Stanford's lineup when Lewis was knocked woozy by a hit late in the third quarter. Typical to his reckless style, Fasani scrambled 15 yards on his only play, taking a nasty hit at the end.
The Cardinal went ahead 35-20 on Lewis' 79-yard TD pass to Powell, who juked Cal cornerback Atari Callen at the line of scrimmage and ran untouched to the end zone, and a 31-yard TD pass to Johnson early in the fourth quarter.
The Bears got a surprisingly strong turnout - bigger than their most recent home crowds, in fact - for the game at Stanford Stadium, which seemed almost equally divided between Cardinal red and Cal blue-and-gold among the crowd of 71,150.
"You want to walk around the Bay Area with bragging rights," Johnson said. "You don't want Cal to have that hanging over you all year."