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Stanford collapses in the fourth, drops 125th Big Game to Cal

BERKELEY – Forty years after Stanford lost to Cal on “The Play,” it lost on “The Fumble.”

Though it won’t go down in history like Cal’s kickoff return in 1982, it was still another devastating defeat for the Cardinal in a season full of them.

With Stanford up by 3, a fumble by freshman option QB Ashton Daniels was picked up by Cal, fumbled again, and then ultimately returned 37 yards for a touchdown by Jackson Sirmon with 10 minutes remaining. The Bears scored another TD in the final minute to win the 125th Big Game 27-20 and retain The Axe for a second straight season.

“Hurt for our seniors,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “Wanted this one really bad for them. So many guys really gave their best effort.”

Stanford had won six straight at Memorial Stadium, including the 2020 game when the Cardinal blocked an extra point in the final minute to win by 1.

The Cardinal (3-8, 1-8 Pac-12) looked like it would keep that streak alive in front of a sellout crowd of 51,892. It was ahead 17-6 entering the fourth quarter on Saturday before giving up 21 straight points.

Stanford’s only Pac-12 win this season was by one point at home against Arizona State, and its 1-8 conference record is its worst since 2006.

The Cardinal finishes its fourth straight season without a bowl game next Saturday night against BYU.

“We missed an opportunity to get our seniors The Axe and now we have an opportunity to send them out with a win at Stanford Stadium,” Shaw said. “It’s the least we can do for our seniors is get them one more victory at the Stadium.”

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Stanford had only scored five touchdowns in its previous five games, but it reached the end zone on the opening possession Saturday. Daniels ran 43 yards on a keeper, running back Mitch Leigber had a one-handed catch to the 1 and then Leigber ran for a 1-yard score.

That would be the only TD of the first half. Junior safety Alaka’i Gilman had a diving interception late in the second quarter, the first pick of his career, and the Cardinal led 10-6 at halftime.

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