It wasn't pretty, but BYU survived turnovers and near-mistakes to defeat the Cal Bears 42-35 on Saturday in Berkeley.
After BYU squandered a chance to take the lead in the third quarter with a disastrous turnover, the Cougars fought back and regained advantage when Christian Stewart hit Jordan Leslie on an 83-yard touchdown bomb, giving the Cougars a 35-28 lead with 11:49 left in the game.
Cal drove 80 yards on its next possession to tie the game, but BYU's defense -- after hanging in admirably all day -- began making noise. Cal quarterback Jared Goff was battered on every pass attempt. The Cougar D continued this after BYU was held to a three-and-out, stuffing Daniel Lasco on the run and disrupting Goff and the passing game to get the ball back into Stewart's hot hand with 4:27 left.
Stewart and company wasted no time. After methodically connecting with Leslie for 11 yards, Devon Blackmon for 9, and Mitch Juergens for 7, C-Stew went to Leslie over the top again.
In a long-developing play, Cal's defense was sucked in by a screen-pass motion from Terenn Houk and a stop route by Blackmon, leaving Leslie dashing up the hashes wide open. Stewart connected for the 38-yarder and BYU took the final 42-35 lead.
The throw finished an amazing second half for Stewart, the former walk-on turned BYU starter. Stewart threw 15-of-20 for 330 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions in the second half, and Stewart finished with 433 passing yards for the game.
The Cougars weren't quite out of the woods yet, however. A game Goff stood as tall as his battered body would allow to lead the Bears to BYU's 9-yard line with half a minute remaining, including converting a 4th & 1 at Cal's 42-yard line.
A false start on first down forced Cal to burn its final timeout with 29 seconds remaining to avoid an otherwise-required 10-second penalty runoff. The Cougars then forced Goff into four straight incompletions, including a nice breakup from Michael Davis on first down, and the victory was secured.
That squandered chance in the third quarter? After tying the game 21-21 on an Algernon Brown screen pass and 22-yard TD rumble, Skye PoVey intercepted Goff and returned it 27 yards to the Cal 33-yard line. A 29-yard pass to Juergens set BYU up at the 1-yard line, when bullet met foot.
Stewart pulled a read-option give to Brown and swung outside with Lasike as the long pitch option. Lasike couldn't handle a poorly-delivered pitch, then forgot a backwards pass is still live. Cal scooped it up, and even though Houk ran down the recoverer, Cal marched down the field for a 28-21 lead.
BYU avoided disaster in the second quarter as well, when Stewart threw a pick-six while being sacked but was correctly ruled down before the pass was thrown. The play would have given Cal a 28-14 lead with 4 minutes left in the first half.
Leslie finished with 155 receiving yards on five receptions, including the two big fourth quarter touchdowns. Juergens added 107 yards on seven receptions and two TDs of his own, while Blackmon had a career day with 60 yards on six catches.
Lasike led BYU in rushing with 63 yards on 12 carries as the Cougars finished with 540 yards of offense.
Mitch Mathews left the game with a concussion early in the third quarter. After making a big 39-yard catch and run that set up the game-tying drive on the Brown screen, Mathews took an odd helmet to his upper back and his head was driven into the ground. Hopefully Mathews is alright and can recover for the postseason.
Up next: BYU plays in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl on Mon., Dec. 22. The game kicks at noon MT on ESPN and will be a yet-to-be-determined opponent from the American Athletic Conference.