Berkeley, CA – Cam Skattebo, that multi-talented, multi-skilled running back who led the Rio Linda Knights to a State Championship in 2018 came calling with his latest team, the Arizona State Sun Devils. Family and friends were both well represented at Memorial Stadium as one of Rio Linda’s favorite sons came to Northern California for a tussle with the California Golden Bears.
In the picturesque setting of Berkeley, California, where California Memorial Stadium, a century-old venue, stood surrounded not only by history but also by an abundance of spectators and serene tree groves, a gridiron showdown unfolded. The ambiance, apart from the occasional booming cannon fire echoing through the nearby hills, was typical of a football clash in Berkeley, with fans well aware of the style of play expected under the leadership of Cal’s head coach, Justin Wilcox.
While there had been hints of a potential offensive transformation under Wilcox, Cal’s performance in their conference opener against Washington last week suggested that they were not quite ready to match the explosive offense often associated with the Pac-12. On a tranquil Saturday, where moments of excitement were sparse until late in the game, Cal managed to edge out a victory against a struggling ASU squad, resulting in a 24-21 final score.
ASU, now with a 1-4 overall record and an 0-2 mark in the Pac-12, had one last chance to either level the score or secure a victory with 2:50 remaining in the game. Despite junior quarterback Trenton Bourguet’s spirited efforts in the second half, he fell short of leading ASU on a game-winning drive, starting from their own 1-yard line. The drive came to an end with back-to-back incomplete passes after Bourguet had advanced ASU near midfield with 30 passing yards and eight rushing yards.
Cal assumed the victory formation despite recording 104 fewer total offensive yards than their opponents’ 430.
Cameron Skattebo, played a significant role in accumulating those yards. He contributed 157 scrimmage yards, with 98 coming from receptions and 58 from rushing attempts. However, the Sun Devils struggled to convert their trips to the red zone into touchdowns.
Coach Dillingham remarked, “We couldn’t run the ball in the red zone. When you can’t run the ball in the red zone, it’s going to be hard because the field shrinks, and their defensive backs are good players. So, we had a plan, and we’re going to go back to see why we couldn’t run the ball down there. They’re sound, they do what they do.”
Skattebo’s 66-yard pass reception set up two red-zone opportunities for ASU in the third quarter, both resulting in short field goals by senior kicker Dario Longhetto.
Possibly the best ASU drive of the day ended with Skattebo throwing a pass to junior wideout Elijhah Badger, and appeared to result in a 1-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, an illegal substitution penalty nullified the score, as ASU had 12 players on the field. Subsequently, a false start penalty on junior center Leif Fautanu led to the field goal unit taking the field. The points that slipped away proved costly as Cal maintained a 17-13 lead.
Skattebo acknowledged, “Players and coaches: We all make mistakes, and we had too many people on the field. Simple. Someone just forgot to come off, and someone went on. It’s huge that we didn’t get that touchdown, but it happened and it’s over with now.”
While both Bourguet and Skattebo recorded rushing touchdowns in the first and second halves, respectively, ASU’s offensive drives often started deep within their own territory. Cal, on the other hand, frequently began their drives in favorable field position.
Cal’s junior punter, Lachlan Wilson, averaged an impressive 49.7 yards per punt, while ASU’s senior punter, Josh Carson, managed only 36.2 yards per punt across four attempts, none of which pinned the opponent inside the 20-yard line.
Cal’s sophomore quarterback, Sam Jackson V, completed only 12 of 29 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown, enduring two sacks. However, sophomore running back Jaydn Ott made up for it with a strong ground performance, rushing for 165 yards at an average of 5.7 yards per carry.
Despite their struggles and a string of losses, ASU continues to display resilience. Skattebo summed up the team’s attitude, saying, “We never count ourselves out. Even last week, we didn’t count ourselves out. We had the right plays, and we were just a couple of plays away. This game is played off of three or four different plays: They go the complete opposite way and a team could blow somebody out or completely get smoked.”
The illegal substitution penalty that negated a touchdown and other critical penalties weighed heavily on the outcome of the game. Coach Dillingham acknowledged the impact, stating, “We’re still keeping the penalties down, but they were crucial penalties. You get a penalty that takes four points off the board and then you get [pass interference] with a quarterback scrambling and throws a chuck ball with four minutes left to go in the game. So, it wasn’t a matter of the sloppiness of penalties, it was a matter of timely penalties that were critical on pretty much the most important plays of the football game. We had two critical penalties.”
Dillingham also explained the team’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-short, noting that it had worked successfully earlier in the game and that they intended to continue being aggressive in such situations.
Ultimately, the Sun Devils’ efforts fell short, leaving them with room for improvement as they look ahead to their next game, welcoming Coach Deion Sanders’ Colorado Buffaloes to Tempe next week.
- ASU players were very pleased with the overcast skies and cool breeze of the Bay Area, audibly rejoicing during warmups that they didn’t have to play another game in the purgatorial weather of Tempe, Arizona.
- Many Rio Linda locals made the trip to Berkeley for this one, including players and coaches from the 2018 championship football squad.
- Cameron wore a towel with the word “SacTown” written on it, making sure everyone knew this was a home game for him.
- Field level at Memorial Stadium smells like Garlic Fries, and I can’t get it out of my head. A trip to Granite’s may be in the offing today.
- If I had to guess, I’d say Memorial Stadium was half-full, but the crowd control and transportation skills of the Cal staff were on full display. As miserable as it is to get around in the Bay Area at times, especially in the tight confines of the Berkeley hills, people moved smoothly and quickly after the game. Even with a 45-minute delay on the Bay Bridge, we were in San Francisco by 5pm, in time for dinner.