Berkeley, CA – Led by their defensive-focused, second-year head coach Justin Wilcox, the California Golden Bears (1-0) defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels (0-1) at California Memorial Stadium on September 1, 2018, by a score of 24-17 to open their 2018 campaign.
Despite allowing 14 points in the fourth quarter to bring the game within a single score with less than a minute left to play, the Cal defense proved to be the deciding factor in the contest, especially in the opening 30 minutes.
Throughout the day, UNC struggled to find any momentum offensively due to the constant pressure created in the backfield by the Cal defensive rush.
In all, the Golden Bear defense came away with four turnovers on the night, all through the air, while holding the Tar Heels without a first down in the opening quarter and under 40 total yards at the half.
“The turnovers were huge,” Wilcox said after the game. “Turnover ratio is the No. 1 indicator of winning and losing so when you win the turnover battle 4-0, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win the game.”
Entering the fourth quarter up by three touchdowns, Cal began to show signs of last season’s 5-7 team which failed to finish late on multiple occasions in 2017 late in this game.
The Tar Heels found the end zone for the first time following a 19-play drive with 6:31 to play, before Nathan Elliot (11) found Anthony Ratliff-Williams (17) for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 1:13 remaining.
A review would overturn the Tar Heels’ secured onside-kick attempt following the point-after attempt, and the Golden Bears were ready for the second attempt.
“We were able to find a way to finish the game,” Wilcox said. “We probably didn’t finish it as well as we would’ve liked in every phase, but we found a way to win the game and guys battled.”
Jaylinn Hawkins (6) secured the first interception of the day in the opening quarter, finishing with two on the day. The turnover gave the Golden Bears possession at the UNC 23-yard line and their first scoring chance of the season.
With help from a pass interference penalty thrown in the corner of the end zone, they punched it in four plays later with the first rushing touchdown of 2018 for team captain, running back Patrick Laird (28).
In the second quarter, Golden Bear defensive end Cameron Goode (19) stretched the Cal lead to 14 when he snagged the team’s second interception and returned it for a 38-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
The Cal offense saw action from three different quarterbacks on the day with starter Ross Bowers (3) combining with backups Brandon McIlwain (5) and Chase Garbers (7) to finish 16-of-32 with 119 yards passing and one touchdown.
Laird finished as the day’s leading rusher with 95 yards and a touchdown on 29 attempts.
The Golden Bears move to 2-0 against the Tar Heels in as many years with the win and will look to face off at BYU on September 8th at 7:30 p.m. PST.