Tuesday, December 29, 2015

California Golden Bears: 2015 Armed Forces Bowl Champions


FORT WORTH, Texas - Faced with an opportunity to craft the final chapter in a season filled with positive progress as a program, the Cal football team didn't have to look hard for a game plan when it lined up against Air Force in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.

Instead, a 55-36 victory over the Falcons at Amon G. Carter Stadium followed a familiar script for a Cal program that took serious strides in 2015. Yet another tremendous performance from quarterback Jared Goff paved the way and the Bears followed his lead, rolling to their eighth win of the season for the first time since 2009.

As was often the case for the Bears this year, Goff was the main character in Cal's story of success, completing 25 of 37 passes for 467 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions to earn game MVP honors. Along the way, he set Pac-12 single season records for passing touchdowns (43) and yards (4,719) while setting a Cal bowl record and tying his career high for touchdowns in a single game. His touchdown total also tied for second-most in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) bowl history.

Goff's focus wasn't confined to one or two main targets. Kenny Lawler found the end zone three times, hauling in five passes for 75 yards while senior Bryce Treggs made his final collegiate game a memorable one with four catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. Fellow senior Darius Powe caught two touchdown passes and nine different Bears caught a pass and Cal (8-5) racked up 586 yards of total offense while breaking the school record for points in a bowl game of 52 (2003 Insight Bowl vs. Virginia Tech).

"I thought the way we played today was really indicative of the way we practiced leading up to the game," Cal head coach Sonny Dykes said. "I was really pleased with the way we focused. We started practicing the week after the Arizona State game. And it's a long way away when you start thinking about practicing. You have about a month between that game and this game. And we've got to give our guys a lot of credit, because they had the right mentality. They came out and practiced hard every day. They were real focused, and I thought we played that way as a result. So, again, it was nice to see them prepare the way they did."

Air Force (8-6) kept pace with the Bears into the second quarter, trading scores with Cal to keep the score a manageable 14-all with a few minutes gone in the period. But, as the Falcons tried to grind out yards with their triple-option attack, Cal countered with its full arsenal of big play threats.

A 5-yard touchdown pass from Goff to Powe, followed by an over the shoulder dime to Lawler for a 24-yard score put Cal up 28-14. After a long drive by Air Force resulted in a 1-yard touchdown sneak by quarterback Karson Roberts, Goff fired a 55-yard strike to Treggs that set up a 14-yard pitch and catch to Lawler that made it 35-21 Bears at intermission.

Cal's attack kept rolling without much resistance in the third quarter. Goff connected with Powe again for a 12-yard touchdown pass, Matt Anderson added a 29-yard field goal and Lawler snagged a 25-yard pass for his third touchdown of the day to push the score to 52-29. In the process, Lawler also continued to move upward in the Cal career record book, tying for second in career touchdown receptions with 27 as well as single-season touchdown receptions with 13.

"The guys got open and made it a lot easier for me," Goff said. "The O‑line started to protect really well. And I'm just sitting back there, like you said, playing pitch and catch. And, when they're that open, I don't want to say it's easy. But it's not as hard as it would be if you had to fit one in there."

Anderson finished the scoring in the fourth quarter with a 30-yard field goal, capping a 14-play drive that took almost eight minutes off the clock to seal the victory. The bowl win is Cal's first since a 24-17 win over Miami in the 2008 Emerald Bowl and is the Bears' second over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, joining a 42-36 win over the Falcons in 2007. It also gave Cal eight wins in a season for just the 11th time since 1952.

"Credit to these coaches for really just instilling a belief and holding everyone accountable," said safety Stefan McClure. "And it showed with the improvements over the each of the past two seasons. So just a great honor to really be a part of this team and just show how much hard work really pays off. And now we're sitting here with eight wins, and the program is in great hands and looking forward to see what these guys are going to do next year."
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