Nov 23, 2002
By GREG BEACHAM
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - The Axe is back at California, and nobody is the least bit surprised.
That might be the biggest surprise of all from the Golden Bears' monumental turnaround season.
Joe Igber ran for 226 yards and a score as Cal beat Stanford 30-7 Saturday in the 105th Big Game, emphatically snapping a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry with a blowout victory that capped the Bears' transformation from punch lines to winners.
A year ago, as Cal endured a 1-10 season that included a ragged loss to bowl-bound Stanford, such a change of fortune was almost incomprehensible. But the right coach makes a remarkable difference - and Jeff Tedford's rebuilding program produced one more reward for his players and their long-suffering fans.
"I used to feel like we were cursed in this game, because whatever happened, they always seemed to have the upper hand on us," said senior Jemeel Powell, whose 84-yard punt return in the third quarter capped the scoring. "After what we went through for all those years, it was time. It was payback. We earned this day."
Kyle Boller passed for 188 yards and threw two touchdown passes to LaShaun Ward as the Bears (7-5, 4-4 Pac-10) finished their first winning season since 1993 with an overwhelming performance against the reeling Cardinal (2-9, 1-7), who gave up the Axe without much of a fight.
In fact, the biggest skirmishes were fought on the field afterward, when the first sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium since the 1994 Big Game raucously celebrated the end of Cal's longest losing streak against its archrival.
"We didn't want it to be dramatic. We didn't want a close game," Cal cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "Just the fact that we won was drama enough. I've never seen the fans like that in here. The excitement was all over the building. I don't think we've ever had that at home."
Twenty years after The Play - the five-lateral, 57-yard kickoff return that won the 1982 Big Game for Cal - the Bears didn't need any trickery. After Teyo Johnson caught an 8-yard TD pass on Stanford's opening possession, Boller and Igber led a steady march to the end zone.
Ward, one of the Bears' 15 senior starters along with Boller and Igber, caught touchdown passes of 31 and 22 yards in the first half as Boller repeatedly found seams in the Cardinal's pass defense.
Igber sprinted untouched through the heart of the Stanford defense for a 42-yard score 4:36 before halftime, giving Cal a 23-7 lead and starting the festivities in the stands.
"We didn't prepare any differently, but the players were very, very fired up for this game," Tedford said. "When you come into the Big Game with 24 seniors, there's really not much to say."
After Stanford quarterback Ryan Eklund fumbled with 11 seconds left, the students rushed the field. The officials waved off the final ticks of the clock, and the fans lifted Boller onto their hands for a bit of crowd-surfing.
The Axe was taken to midfield and carried across the turf by the players, who held it aloft and allowed thousands of students to touch it.
The celebration didn't get ugly until several fans tried to rush the south goal posts, but dozens of security guards fought them off. Moments later, hundreds of students overwhelmed the guards on the north goal posts, tearing them down and parading them through the stadium.
The fans attempted to use the north goal post as a wedge to attack the south posts, and several fans were pulled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested. But the students and fans eventually overwhelmed the guards, tearing down the second set of posts and swarming over them.
"I wish I could come back for four more years with Coach Tedford," said Boller, who hugged his parents on the field after the crowd spit him out. "It was great to see the goal posts go down."
Johnson caught five passes for 61 yards for Stanford, which ended its worst season since 1983 with a five-game losing streak that left the Cardinal in last place in the Pac-10. It was Stanford's worst offensive output in the Big Game since 1967.
Stanford never lost the Big Game in Tyrone Willingham's seven seasons, but coach Buddy Teevens' rookie campaign ended with another embarrassing loss.
"I don't know what to think right now. I'm disappointed, heartbroken," Stanford running back Kerry Carter said. "This is probably one of the worst feelings I've had."
Igber had the biggest rushing day in Big Game history, repeatedly slicing through Stanford's defense for huge gains on just 26 carries. Igber finished his Cal career with 3,124 yards, passing Chuck Muncie and Paul Jones to finish second in school history behind Russell White.
"People will forget about me in the next couple of months, but I did what I came here to do," Igber said. "We got the win. We got the Axe. That's all that matters."