Berkeley, CA – The University of California, Berkeley hosted the Idaho State Bengals in a thrilling college football showdown on September 16, 2023. This matchup had all the elements of a classic underdog story, with Idaho Vandals bursting out of the gate and taking an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter. However, the Cal Bears clawed their way back into the game, eventually emerging victorious with a final score of 31-17.
“It was great to see the guys battle through that,” coach Justin Wilcox said. “You don’t want that to happen, but it did. I’m proud of how they fought through it. We played better throughout the game. It just felt real streaky on our part.”
Idaho Fast Start
The game began with Idaho making a statement. Their offense came out firing on all cylinders, led by quarterback Gevani McCoy, who looked sharp in the opening drive. McCoy connected with his receivers effectively, leading to an early touchdown and a field goal, giving the Bengals a surprising 10-point lead.
The Bears’ faithful at Memorial Stadium were stunned by Idaho State’s strong start, but Cal Head Coach Mark Jenkins knew his team had the resilience to overcome the early deficit.
Cal’s Comeback Trail
The second quarter marked a significant turning point in the game. Cal quarterback Sam Jackson rallied his team with precision passing and decision-making. Jackson’s connection with his receivers improved, and the Bears found the end zone twice, reducing the Bengals’ lead to a mere three points by halftime, with the score at 17-14.
The second-half kickoff was a turning point for Cal, as they found their rhythm on both sides of the ball. The Bears’ defense began to clamp down on Idaho State’s offense, putting pressure on McCoy and forcing crucial turnovers.
Cal opened up their first double-digit lead late in the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Ifanse stepping in for injured starter Jadyn Ott. Ifanse finished with 137 yards on 22 carries, and the score gave the Bears a 28-17 lead heading into the fourth. A Vandals’ fumble and recovery by Cal on the next Idaho possession gave the Bears some breathing room.
“Our goal is three turnovers a game so we can give the ball back to the offensive guys, so they can put points on the scoreboard,” said defensive back Nohl Williams, who had an interception in the second quarter.
Sam Jackson’s Stellar Performance
Cal’s star quarterback, Sam Jackson, played a pivotal role in the team’s comeback and eventual victory. Jackson displayed incredible efficiency, finishing the game with an impressive 12-13 passing for 108 yards and two touchdown passes. His ability to make quick reads and deliver accurate throws helped the Bears regain control of the game.
In addition to Jackson’s performance, the Cal defense deserves accolades for their relentless pressure on McCoy. They limited Idaho’s offensive opportunities in the second half and came up with a crucial interception that swung the momentum in Cal’s favor.
Idaho Efforts in Vain
Despite the loss, Idaho’s Gevani McCoy had an admirable outing, completing 28 of 46 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown, albeit marred by the one interception. The Vandals showed resilience in the face of adversity, but ultimately, they were unable to maintain their early momentum.
Cal’s Late Surge
The Bears continued to build on their second-quarter success in the second half. Their running game came to life, chewing up yardage and clock to maintain possession. Cal’s defense continued to stifle Idaho State, keeping them scoreless in the second half.
Cal’s late-game surge included two more touchdowns, putting the game out of reach for Idaho State. The final score stood at 31-17 in favor of the Bears, marking an impressive comeback victory and a well-deserved win.
The Cal Bears’ victory over the Idaho Vandals was a testament to their resilience and determination. Despite falling behind early, they regrouped, took control of the game, and secured the victory.
Idaho: Hosts Sacramento State on Saturday.
California: Plays at Washington on Saturday.