BERKELEY, Calif. — With the clock running down and the game on the line, California coach Sonny Dykes trusted his much-maligned defense to deliver.
The defense responded with six stops from inside the 10 to seal the win.
James Looney stopped Zach Moss from the 1-yard line on the final play of the game to give the Golden Bears their second straight home win against a ranked opponent, 28-23 over No. 18 Utah on Saturday.
“I’m really proud of our defensive players,” Dykes said. “Those guys have taken a lot of criticism from people. The good thing is they didn’t listen to it. They kept working and kept getting better.”
Dykes declined to use any of his three timeouts late in the game as Utah (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) drove for a possible winning score, believing a defense that has struggled to stop opponents all season could come up with one key stand for Cal (3-2, 1-1).
“I’m glad Coach Dykes put the faith in us,” Looney said. “He always has. It’s not like it’s a new thing. He just told us to go out there and play. He knew we were playing well and he put his faith in us and we came through.”
The Utes had a first-and-goal at the 9 with about 2 minutes left. Dykes considered starting to use timeouts to save time for his high-powered offense that had built the lead behind four TD passes from Davis Webb but decided against it.
A pair of short runs and a sack, left the Utes facing a fourth down, but a pass interference in the end zone against Marloshawn Franklin Jr. with 14 seconds gave Utah three more shots from the 2.
Moss ran for 1 yard on first down, Troy Williams threw an incomplete pass on second down before Looney ended the game by wrapping up Moss before he even got back to the line of scrimmage.
“I had a chance to make a play, it was my play to make and I made it,” Looney said. “It was about time. I need to make those. I’m a leader of this defense and I need to make those plays.”
That set off a wild celebration for Cal and sent the Utes home in disappointment following their first conference loss.
“A tough game to lose but proud of our guys for how they hung in there and fought back, just like we’ve done many times previously in the season,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We’re just one play away there.”
Utah: The Utes came into the game wanting to limit Cal’s chances and did just that by running 97 plays on offense and holding the ball for 42:01. Utah had a 21-play scoring drive in the first half that took 9:08 and kept Webb off the field.
“We didn’t want to get into a scoring contest with them,” Whittingham said. “That’s their MO, that’s not our MO, and that’s exactly how it went down is we did not let that happen.”
California: The Bears were not their usual selves on offense as they struggled to run the ball and went more than 30 minutes of game time with just one first down. But Webb was good enough the rest of the game, throwing for 306 yards and a pair of scoring strikes to Chad Hansen and Demetris Robertson to give Cal the win.
TIMEOUT DISPUTE: A key factor on the final drive was a disputed timeout by Utah. With the clock stopped with 14 seconds left, the officials granted the Utes a timeout they said they never called. By using the team’s second timeout there, Utah felt forced to throw on second down from the 1 because it was out of timeouts and Whittingham wanted to make sure he had three shots at the end zone.
“It limited how many times we could’ve run the football, that’s what it did,” Whittingham said. “That was a huge factor.”
The Utes will likely fall out of the poll following their first loss of the season, while the Bears will need to do more work to get into the rankings for the first time this year.
Utah: The Utes return home to take on Arizona next Saturday.
California: The Bears seek their first road win when they travel to Oregon State on Saturday.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org