Sports


The Axe stays with Stanford following a dramatic victory

 

By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online

Andrew Luck doesn't need much motivation when he takes the football field. The desire to compete at the highest possible level just seems to be part of his DNA, and he can raise the level of those who line up with him.

Luck became a 30-game winner for Stanford in the 114th edition of the Big Game on Saturday, a slightly left of center 31-28 grinding kind of victory over visiting California on a night when the weather conditions played a leading role.

On Sunday, Stanford was ranked No. 4 in The Associated Press Top 25 and No. 6 in the BCS standings.

Luck did have some motivation to do well against the Bears this year, likely his final in a Cardinal uniform.

"I wanted to get a Big Game win at Stanford Stadium," he said. "It was a big deal for me to right some wrongs on this field from two years ago. We did enough to win and that's really all that matters."

You won't see Luck put his performance Saturday night among the nominees for "Best Performance in a Game by a Quarterback," but he certainly found a way to follow up on last year's historic season.

For the first time in Stanford history, the football team has put together back-to-back 10-plus win seasons. Heck, 10 wins are so rare, it's happened a mere five times at Stanford.

Luck started a new club in Stanford annals and he'll be the only member for a while. He opened the 30-win, 75-touchdown passes club by throwing two of them against Cal and leading the Cardinal to a 30-6 record as a starting quarterback. He missed the Sun Bowl loss two years ago with a thumb injury.

He's one shy of his own single-season school record for touchdown passes with 31, and one shy of John Elway for career touchdown passes with 76. Luck has done in three years what Elway did in four.

On a day when Oregon was defeated by USC, Washington topped by Oregon State and Arizona State beaten by Arizona, Stanford managed to avoid the upset syndrome and will take a 10-1 overall mark into next Saturday's 5 p.m. game with visiting Notre Dame.

The Cardinal (8-1 in Pac-12 play) can do no worse than tie with Oregon for the North Division championship and still has an outside chance of reaching the conference championship game should the Ducks slip against Oregon State next week.

Thanks to a couple of other upsetting losses at the top of the rankings, including second-ranked Oklahoma State, Stanford could see its stock rise again in the BCS standings after taking a dip from its setback against Oregon.

Luck threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns and No. 8 Stanford survived a shaky start to beat rival California in a rain-soaked Big Game with a rare late start under the lights.

Luck revived his Heisman Trophy campaign by tossing scores to Levine Toilolo and Ryan Hewitt, keeping the Cardinal's slim chances of a Pac-12 title and national championship alive. He overcame an early interception and rallied Stanford from six points down to keep The Axe on The Farm for the second straight season.

Stanford had its 17-game winning streak snapped the previous Saturday in a 53-30 loss to Oregon that seemed to dash its national championship dreams. With No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 7 Clemson all falling this week, the Cardinal's chances might not seem so far-fetched anymore.

With a steady stream of rain falling, Luck connected with Toilolo for a 4-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter to extend the Cardinal lead to 21-13. Stanford stifled Cal's offense again and quickly put the ball back in the hands of its star quarterback.

Luck wasted little time. He found Toilolo for a 41-yard gain and finished off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to fullback Hewitt to put Stanford in front 28-13.

"He's a complete player," Luck said of Hewitt. "He takes pride in his work. As a fullback he likes to get down and dirty and hit people. He doesn't complain when he's catching passes though."

The Cardinal wasted an opportunity to put the game away earlier when Isi Sofele fumbled. Stanford took over and punted quickly, and Cal pushed ahead with the momentum, closing to within 28-21 with plenty of time left.

Of course, Luck and his teammates put a big dent in the time of possession. Stanford used nearly eight minutes with a 14-play, 57-yard drive that ended with a field goal.

Jordan Williamson, who missed a 33-yard field goal wide left in the first half and hadn't played in the last three games because of an undisclosed injury, kicked a 35-yard field to give the Cardinal a two-score cushion.

"You've got to have faith in your players," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "He missed a kick, but that was the right decision at the time."

Stepfan Taylor was held to a team-high 46 yards rushing on 16 carries, but surpassed the 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season. The junior became the third back in Stanford history to achieve multiple 1,000-yard seasons, joining Darrin Nelson (three times) and Toby Gerhart (twice).

A wild beginning to the game began on the first play from scrimmage when Maynard went deep to Allen, who caught the ball after a collision with defender Johnson Bademosi. The play went for 42 yards.

However, on the next play, Maynard's pitch to Ise Sofele was wild and Gardner recovered amid a scramble. The ensuring series showed the best and worst of the Cardinal. Luck misfired on a pass to a wide open Toilolo, but the Cardinal took a 7-0 lead on the next play, a reverse that Ty Montgomery carried for 34 yards.

Luck again misfired, this time on Stanford's following series when Montgomery fell and the pass was intercepted by Steve Williams and returned 49 yards for an apparent touchdown, only for a penalty on the return to negate the score, though Cal retained possession.

Moments later, Cal (6-5, 3-5) took a 10-7 when Maynard lofted a pass to the deep right corner and Allen ran under it for a 15-yard score.

The Bears extended the lead to 13-7 in the second quarter, before the Cardinal scored three unanswered touchdowns, beginning with Tyler Gaffney's 6-yard run up the middle for the go-ahead score, with 7:10 left before halftime.

"Our kids fought back," Shaw said. "Andrew was phenomenal, not just in running and throwing, but once again in dictating the plays that we run."

AP and Stanford Sports Information contributed to this report.

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