USC hands Cal season-ending victory

BERKELEY — Cal beat USC 24-14 on Saturday night in a season-ending game that was originally scheduled for three weeks ago and seemed to hold no interest for some of the Trojans.

With nine USC players staying home for no given reason, the Bears ended a strange season with just their second win over the Trojans in 17 years.

Cal (5-7, 4-5 Pac-12) avoided its biggest loss total since going 1-11 in 2013 and put the finishing touches on the Trojans’ first four-game losing streak since 2001. USC (4-8, 3-6), which will return next season with new coach Lincoln Riley, formerly of Oklahoma, wound up with its worst record in 30 years.

The Bears, who began this season 1-5 and dealt with a COVID outbreak that caused this game to be rescheduled, were eliminated from bowl eligibility a week earlier when they lost 42-14 at UCLA.

Nine players on the USC two-deep stayed home, including starting cornerback Chris Steele and outside linebacker Drake Jackson, projected as a possible first-round NFL draft choice. Additionally, top receiver Gary Bryant Jr., who was not reported to be injured, watched from the sidelines.

Three defensive plays were key to Cal’s victory:

— Cal linebacker Trey Paster gave the Bears a 17-7 lead in the second quarter when he scooped up a fumble by running back Darwin Barlow and raced 55 yards for a touchdown.

— Late in the third quarter, Cal’s defense held on a strange fourth-and-2 play from the 3-yard line. The snap landed at the feet of right end Erik Krommenhoek, who was in motion on the play. He picked it up but was immediately swarmed by the Bears for no gain, giving Cal possession.

— And with 9:47 left, on a third-and-6 play from the Cal 8, safety Daniel Scott flattened backup quarterback Miller Moss, who was in the game after starter and fellow freshman Jaxson Dart was injured. No one noticed that Moss lost the ball until freshman cornerback Lu-Magia Hearns pounced on it back at the 32-yard line.

Cal used that turnover to trigger a 68-yard scoring drive, capped by Christopher Brooks’ 2-yard TD run with 5:37 left that pushed the lead to 24-7.

The Trojans scored with 1:36 left to avoid its most one-sided loss to Cal in 30 years.

The Bears scored two touchdowns in a span of 58 seconds in the second quarter to take a 17-7 lead into halftime.

Brooks’ 1-yard plunge capped an eight-play, 79-yard drive that featured a 39-yard pass from Chase Garbers to tight end Jake Tonges, and gave the Bears a 10-7 lead with 4:51 left in the first half.

Barlow then lost the ball after a hit by safety Elijah Hicks and Paster returned it 55 yards down the left sideline for a TD with 3:53 left.

The Trojans had scored on their first possession of the second quarter, with Dart completing a 45-yard pass-and-run play to wide receiver Kyle Ford for a 7-3 USC lead with 9:28 left in the period.

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Author: Jeff Faraudo