WSU played its most complete game of the year, but it wasn’t quite enough to knock off No. 24 California, and the Cougs fell, 34-28, to the Golden Bears in their Pac-12 Conference opener on Saturday afternoon. Cal, meanwhile, improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2007.

Share story

BERKELEY, Calif. — Disappointment emanated from the Washington State locker room Saturday after the Cougars’ 34-28 loss to No. 24 Cal in their Pac-12 Conference opener.

There was a sense among the Cougars that they’d let this one slip away. WSU led deep into the third quarter at California Memorial Stadium, but ultimately couldn’t knock off the determined Golden Bears, who improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2007.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” said linebacker Peyton Pelluer, who finished with eight tackles. “Too much and too often. They capitalized on us, they (upped the) tempo (on) us when we were having trouble getting lined up, and they capitalized on our mistakes. We gave them too many plays.”

As a result, Cal quarterback Jared Goff passed for 390 yards and threw four touchdown passes to rally Cal (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) from a two-touchdown deficit late in the first half.

Cal outscored WSU 21-7 in a third quarter so frenzied that neither team scored again afterward. It wasn’t quite the 56-point madness of last year’s third quarter, but it had its moments.

It started when Cal foiled a WSU (2-2, 0-1) fake punt attempt and the Golden Bears’ Stefan McClure ran the fumble back for a 45-yard touchdown to cut WSU’s lead to 21-20.

In hindsight, WSU coach Mike Leach said that was a “bad call” and that he regretted dialing up the fake punt on fourth-and-one from the Cougars’ 49-yard line.

Because up to that point, the Cougars had the momentum firmly in hand. The offense had finally found its moxie and put together two long drives of more than 70 yards that had resulted in touchdowns. Luke Falk was taking shots down field, and distributing the ball with aplomb, and WSU’s defense had played stifling, confident football, forcing two three-and-outs and stonewalling Cal’s offense on third-and-one and fourth-and-one in the second quarter to force a turnover on downs.

Punter Zach Charme’s fumble on the fake punt opened the door for Cal to crawl back into the game.

The Cougars, to their credit, initially responded with the kind of fight they showed to win at Rutgers in the final seconds.

Falk hit Gabe Marks for a 4-yard touchdown pass on the end of a 15-play, 79-yard drive, and WSU took a 28-20 lead. WSU’s defense then came up big when Marcellus Pippins – who intercepted Cal’s Goff on the third play of the game – recovered a Cal fumble to give the Cougars’ offense the ball back.

That’s when things turned Cal’s way. Falk drove the offense to Cal’s 19-yard line, but Erik Powell’s 40-yard field-goal attempt was wide right.

Cal capitalized with a five-play drive that culminated in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Goff to Kenny Lawler, but couldn’t come up with the two-point conversion.

Then, the Golden Bears one-upped WSU on special teams trickery and pulled out an onside kick that caught the Cougars by surprise.

“It’s something that we talked about,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “That’s kind of a hard kick to execute, and you have to credit Matt (Anderson, Cal’s kicker). He did a fantastic job kicking it, and Darius (Allensworth) did a great job making the play.

“We were looking for the right time to call it, and we just felt at that point we had a little bit of momentum. We thought it could be something that could really change the game.”

Cal recovered, and on the ensuing offensive drive scored on a 24-yard touchdown reception by Maurice Harris. After the two-point conversion was successful, the Bears took a 34-28 lead over WSU that ultimately stood up.

WSU had its chances, though. Falk got the offense into Cal’s red zone to start the fourth quarter, but Marks fumbled the ball after what would likely have been a 10-yard reception at Cal’s 20-yard line, and the Golden Bears recovered.

Falk finished 34 of 49 for 389 passing yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. Marks led WSU’s receivers with 10 receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown and moved into sole possession of seventh place on WSU’s career receptions list (158).

WSU played better than it has all season, but on that day, “better” wasn’t good enough.

“I think we got better this week,” Leach said. “But we didn’t get better by the margin I would have liked.

“It came down to plays all over the field. This was a narrowly sliced game, and there were a lot of plays we could have made. I thought we played hard.”