STANFORD, Calif. – As Stanford’s record Big Game rout took shape, a chant could be heard in the Red Zone student section midway through the third quarter.
The only thing that could make Stanford’s 63-13 victory over Cal even better was an Oregon upset, and that indeed was happening.
NFL cornerback and Stanford alum Richard Sherman walked toward David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, and tapped him on the shoulder, holding up his phone with the Oregon-Arizona score.
“I was a little bit shocked,” Shaw said. “I thought I was seeing it the wrong way."
With 1:48 left in the third quarter at Stanford Stadium, during a break in the game, a murmur in the crowd grew into a full-throated crescendo. Arizona had upset Oregon, 42-16, and the Cardinal did not falter, earning a return to the Pac-12 championship game.
Stanford (9-2 overall, 7-2 Pac-12) clinched a share of the Pac-12 North Division title, using a five-touchdown performance by receiver Ty Montgomery – all in the first half – to propel it there. Stanford and Oregon each have two losses in conference, but Stanford owns the tiebreaker over the Ducks by virtue of its 26-20 victory on Nov. 7. Meanwhile, Cal finished 1-11 overall and 0-9 in conference play.
The conference championship game will be played Dec. 7 against Arizona State, which clinched the Pac-12 South with a 38-33 victory over UCLA. The location will be determined by the ASU-Arizona result next week. Stanford will require an Arizona victory to host.
As the Oregon score was announced by public-address announcer Steve Frost to the sellout crowd of 50,424, Stanford players slapped hands, high fives and even skipped along the sidelines. Stanford, whose hopes faltered with its 20-17 loss at USC last week, was back in the Rose Bowl picture.
The Cardinal won its fourth consecutive Big Game and retained the Stanford Axe, a trophy that was celebrated with the 40th anniversary of the last theft in its storied history, by Stanford’s “Infamous Three.” The two living members, David Suliteanu and Tim Conway, were in attendance Saturday and marveled at the feats of Montgomery.
Stanford took a 59-46-11 lead in a series that began in 1892 with a 14-10 Stanford victory at San Francisco’s Haight Street Grounds. But never in all those years and all those games, had anyone put together a half – or a game – quite like him.
Montgomery’s first half for the ages tied the school single-game record by Darrin Nelson, at Oregon State in 1981. Nelson, a senior associate athletic director at UC Irvine, also was in attendance.
“If he gets one-on-one, we’re going to give him opportunities,” Shaw said. “A couple of those were not really deep shots. Ty just made them big plays.”
Montgomery had three touchdowns in the first 8:02 of the game, and his touchdown plays were thus:
On Stanford’s third play from scrimmage – after Lee Ward returned the opening pooch kickoff 30 yards – carried 31 yards on an end around, giving the Cardinal the lead only 1:00 into the game.
After Cal tied the score, Montgomery caught a deep pass down the middle from Hogan, was spun around 360 degrees, and fought off safety Cameron Walker to reach the end zone and complete a 50-yard play.
Montgomery was at it again on Stanford’s next possession, catching a pass from Hogan on a crossing route for a 12-yard score and a 21-7 lead.
With Stanford ahead, 21-10, Montgomery earned his fourth touchdown, catching a short pass outside and dashing through a seam down the middle for a 72-yard score.
Finally, with time for one more play, Hogan hit Montgomery on a short fade to the right corner of the end zone, securing the nine-yard pass with five seconds left for a 42-13 lead.
“I knew as an offense we were going to be able to do what we did today,” Montgomery said.
Had Montgomery ever scored five touchdowns before?
“I don’t know,” he said, to laughter from the media contingent.
You don’t know?
“I guess my mom would,” he said with a smile.
Stanford clearly picked on Cal’s injury-decimated secondary, throwing deep with frequency. It was not only Montgomery who took advantage, but Michael Rector did as well, catching a 45-yard scoring pass in the second quarter. The ball was perfectly thrown down the middle by Hogan and reached Rector in stride at the goal line.
By halftime, Hogan had collegiate highs in touchdown passes (four) and passing yards (295 yards). It was clear that Hogan was throwing as well as he ever had, with his throws precise and timed well with his receivers. At times, Hogan was hit as he threw, but was never deterred. He finished 17-of-26 passing for 329 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions in 2½ quarters.
“He put the ball in the right spots today,” Montgomery said.
The final show of dominance came from Tyler Gaffney. Entering with a streak of five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, Gaffney had only 24 yards before slicing through the defense for a 58-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter.
That score gave Stanford a Big Game-record 49 points, breaking the previous high for either team of 48—set by Cal 1975 and tied by Stanford in 2010. It also was the final carry of the day for Gaffney, who finished with 95 yards on 16 carries, but had his 100-yard streak ended.
“They did what we thought they were going to do,” Gaffney said. “They put everybody in the box, tried to stop the run. We took advantage of it.”
Montgomery had five catches for 160 yards, plus two carries for 31 for 191 all-purpose yards, in the first half and did not touch the ball in the second.
Kelsey Young finished off the scoring with a 27-yard run and the Cardinal backups got into the action, with Francis Owusu making his first career catch – a 42-yarder from Evan Crower -- and following with a leaping 14-yard touchdown catch with 1:51 left for the final margin – the biggest in Big Game history. The previous high was a 41-0 Stanford victory in 1930.
Rector had four catches for 104 yards. And, defensively, Trent Murphy added a sack to his national-leading total of 12, and Blake Martinez intercepted a fourth-quarter pass, extending the Cardinal’s takeaway streak to 36 games. Altogether, Stanford outgained the Bears, 603-383.
With that, Stanford kept the Axe, returned to the Pac-12 championship game, and created some unforgettable Big Game memories.
“We’re back in the Pac-12 championship game,” Shaw said. “Now, what are we going to do with this opportunity? That’s the question.”