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Cal comes from behind to beat Stanford in 125th Big Game

BERKELEY — It wasn’t The Play, but Cal found some Memorial Stadium magic to win the 125th Big Game.

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the five-lateral kickoff return that has become part of football lore, linebacker Jackson Sirmon picked up the second fumble on the same play and ran 37 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in a 27-20 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 51,892 on Saturday.

“Man, our fans and students were incredible tonight,” Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said. “It is pure joy that you see on those faces after the Big Game. One of my favorite things to do is just stand there and watch them.”

The Bears (4-7, 2-6 Pac-12) ended a six-game losing streak and beat Stanford for the second year in a row and the third time in four seasons. But it wasn’t easy.

The Cardinal (3-8, 1-8) led 17-6 entering the fourth quarter and still were in front 17-12 when Sirmon and the Cal defense made the play of the game.

Stanford reserve quarterback Ashton Daniels, used primarily as a runner, tried getting around left end on a keeper but had the ball jarred loose by Cal safety Daniel Scott.

Cal freshman cornerback Jeremiah Earby scooped up the fumble and ran 3 yards before losing it after being stripped by Daniels. The ball bounced into the hands of Sirmon, who dashed untouched for 37 yards into the end zone with 9:54 left.

“I just looked up and I saw him running,” Cal quarterback Jack Plummer said. “I didn’t see much, just saw the crowd go crazy. It was awesome.”

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California linebacker Jackson Sirmon (8) picks up a fumble and scores a touchdown during the second half of the 125th Big Game at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. Cal defeated Stanford 27-20. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Plummer threw to Jaydn Ott for the two-point conversion and a 20-17 lead.

Scott ended Stanford’s last real threat, picking off Tanner McKee and returning the interception 40 yards to the Cardinal 9-yard line with 2:16 left. Jaydn Ott went across on a 1-yard dive three plays later to make it 27-17 with 58 seconds left.

Stanford’s Joshua Karty kicked a 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game, the longest kick in Big Game and Stanford history and second-longest in Pac-12 history.

Plummer passed for 280 yards and a touchdown in his first Big Game for the Bears, who close their season next Friday afternoon at home against UCLA.

“It was definitely different atmosphere than any other game,” Plummer said. “It was awesome to play in. Definitely had a fun time out there. We stuck in there to the end. It just felt really good.”

Ott rushed for 97 yards — all in the second half — and had three receptions for 52 yards. Wide receiver Jeremiah Hunter had five catches for 103 yards.

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