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Arizona beats Cal on Homecoming to snap 20-game skid

It’s finally over!

arizona-wildcats-cal-golden-bears-football-pac12-losing-streak-plummer-wiley-2021 Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Twenty-first time’s the charm!

The Arizona Wildcats ended the longest active losing streak in college football, beating Cal 10-3 on Saturday afternoon at Arizona Stadium to snap a 20-game skid.

Michael Wiley scored on a 10-yard run with 2:17 left to give the UA (1-8, 1-5 Pac-12) its first win since Oct. 5, 2019, a span of 763 days, and the first of the Jedd Fisch era. Wiley did so before an announced Homecoming crowd of 30,677, the smallest at Arizona Stadium since November 1972, but those who were still there when Arizona went into a victory formation stormed the field and celebrated with players, dozens of whom had never won a college game before Saturday.

The game’s only TD came at the end of an 8-play, 55-yard drive that was set up by Stanley Berryhill III’s 25-yard punt return. He finished with 37 of Arizona’s 202 rushing yards, with Will Plummer running for 68 yards and throwing for 129 but also two interceptions.

Cal (3-6, 2-4) played the game without 24 players, including eight starters, as well as five coaches due to COVID-19 protocols. The Golden Bears, missing their four-year starting quarterback and three starting offensive linemen, finished with just 122 yards of offense, the fewest Arizona has allowed in a game since giving up 112 to Idaho in a 70-0 win to open the 2008 season.

Arizona won a game with 10 or fewer points for the first time since beating Cal 10-9 at home in 2010. It was the Wildcats’ sixth consecutive victory over the Bears.

A scoreless first half, which included 11 punts and two interceptions on 14 total possessions, carried over to the second half. That came to an end with 5:46 left in the third quarter when Tyler Loop connected on a 29-yard field goal. That came a few plays after Plummer scrambled for 21 yards on 3rd and long but had to leave the game for the second time due to injury.

He appeared to hurt his right shoulder on a hard hit in the first half, forcing to the Wildcats to bring in walk-on Luke Ashworth for a play (which was intercepted on a tipped pass), and the second time TV cameras caught Plummer bleeding heavily from his throwing hand.

Plummer said he went to the locker room three or four times during the game.

“We got the win, that’s all that matters,” Plummer said.

Cal immediately followed with its best drive of the game, going 59 yards in nine plays and tying it on a 34-yard field goal from Nick Lopez with 2:09 left in the third. The drive was aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Arizona defensive lineman Kyon Barrs, who punched a Cal offensive lineman in an area you shouldn’t be punched in.

Barrs, playing for the first time in three weeks because of injury, had 2.5 of Arizona’s four sacks and three of the Wildcats’ 10 tackles for loss.

“When those guys all play together, that defensive front, they’re really, really good,” Fisch said. “The problem has been we haven’t gotten all of them together most of the season.”

More trading of punts gave Cal the ball on its own 1-yard line with 7:38 left, and after an incompletion and a false start (which moved it back a half-yard), the Bears threw deep and out of bounds. On the play, Arizona was flagged for sideline interference when someone bumped into an official, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.

The Wildcats were additionally flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct on what the referee called “the Arizona assistant head coach,” moving Cal out to its 31.

“What they told me was ... the side judge says that he backed into (defensive coordinator) Don (Brown),” Fisch said. “Instead of a sideline warning he gave him a 15-yard penalty ... which he didn’t handle great. So they gave him another 15-yard penalty.”

Arizona managed to avoid that coming back to bite it, getting a sack on third down and forcing a punt that Berryhill returned to the UA 45 with 4:56 left to set up the game-winning score.

Cal’s last drive only lasted fourth plays, with Arizona defensive end Jalen Harris pulling Cal quarterback Ryan Glover—who started for senior Chase Garbers—to the ground as he threw incomplete on 4th down.

“Everybody was like, we’ve got to make a stop,” Harris said.

The first half saw Arizona and Cal combine for 11 punts and two turnovers in 14 possessions, with the Golden Bears going 3-and-out on five occasions. The Wildcats got into Cal territory on its first three drives but two ended with interceptions on tipped balls, the first thrown by Plummer and the second by Ashworth, then managed only 32 yards on their next four possessions.

Both picks were made by backup linebackers who were in for absent starters.

Arizona wraps up its home schedule next Saturday when it hosts Utah in another 12 p.m. MT start. The Utes (6-3, 5-1) lead the Pac-12 South Division.