BERKELEY, Calif. — Devon Modster wasn’t too impressed with the best game of his career. That it helped stop California’s four-game losing streak was much more important to the Golden Bears quarterback.
Modster passed for a career-high three touchdowns and rushed for a fourth in his first game back from injury, California’s defense made a pivotal stop late in the fourth quarter and the Golden Bears beat the Washington State Cougars 33-20 on Saturday night.
“I would say it was average,” Modster said of his night. “A couple throws I should have made, a couple reads. I just think it was more of a great team win. We can all improve on this.”
Modster did not play in Cal’s 35-0 loss to No. 8 Utah on Oct. 26 because of an unspecified injury but was cleared earlier this week. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 230 yards and had a pivotal 26-yard scramble before his 52-yard touchdown pass to Makai Polk. Modster also had scoring throws of 9 and 13 yards, then sealed the game with a 13-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
“I felt like he just played free and like himself and left it all out there on the field,” Polk said of Modster.
Chris Brown Jr. rushed for 95 yards and scored twice to help California (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) win for the first time since Sept. 21. The Bears outgained the Cougars 196-16 on the ground.
The win keeps California on track to become bowl eligible for the third time in three seasons under coach Justin Wilcox.
“The resiliency of the group, it’s always been that way,” Wilcox said. “The effort’s always been good. We just executed a bit better tonight. It was great.”
“It just shows a lot of grit,” Modster said. “Coming off a four-game losing streak, our spirits didn’t die. We came out to work every day and it showed tonight.”
Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon was 45 of 58 for 407 yards and threw two touchdown passes and one interception. Gordon, who entered the game leading the nation in passing yards and touchdowns, completed 19 consecutive throws during one stretch to help make up for a rocky start when his first throw of the night was picked off.
Coach Mike Leach’s team came unraveled in the fourth quarter. Safety Tyrese Ross was called for a late hit out of bounds on Cal’s Ben Skinner. On the same play, a member of the Cougars coaching staff was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving the Bears 30 yards in penalties.
Washington State (4-5, 1-5) never led and lost for the fifth time in six games.
“We definitely regressed,” Leach said. “Somehow, it’s got to be meaningful enough to the players, and as coaches we’ve got to make it meaningful. We pretend it’s meaningful and we’ll pretend to try hard. As soon as it gets difficult, then we wilt.”
The Cougars were comfortable throwing the majority of the time, which made it easier for the Bears to defend. Gordon was sharp most of the game and found a nice rhythm with wide receiver Brandon Arconado (12 catches, 130 yards, one touchdown).
Modster finally looked like a capable quarterback. He completed three long passes and effectively danced out of trouble for most of the game. Brown’s running allowed the Bears to be balanced offensively for one of the few times this season. Major credit goes to the defense, which has held 15 of its past 16 opponents to under 25 points.
Both teams struggled to convert extra-point attempts. Cal’s Greg Thomas had his PAT blocked in the first half while Modster’s pass on a two-point try in the fourth quarter fell incomplete. Washington State also came up empty on a pair of two-point conversion attempts.
Cal tight end Gavin Reinwald, whose fumble deep in Bears territory set up Blake Mazza’s first field goal for WSU, made up for the gaffe with a 9-yard touchdown reception.
The 33 points is a season high for the Bears, who had scored 24 points total in three October games.