With Cal’s bowl hopes dwindling and the offense struggling to put up points, 245-pound inside linebacker Evan Weaver suddenly turned into a wide receiver and saved the day. With less than 30 seconds to go in the third quarter, he made a leaping interception at the Washington 37-yard line, then dodged a host of would-be tacklers. Forced out of bounds inside the 5-yard line, he leapt, stretched full out and touched the ball on the inside of the pylon for a touchdown that gave Cal all the points it would need in its 12-10 upset of 15th-ranked Washington.
Weaver made the play sound simple: “I dropped back, he threw me the ball, I caught it, and I just didn’t want to fall down.”
He added with a laugh, “Maybe two or three more yards, and I would’ve run out of steam.”
Running back Patrick Laird said he wasn’t surprised with what Weaver did — although he did joke that it was a veteran move for Weaver to lie down after the play and give himself time to suck in some air.
Fellow inside linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk, who tried to find someone to block during Weaver’s return, said, “He didn’t need anybody to block for him. He was a man on a mission. He knew what he wanted, and he’s a bad man.”
Head coach Justin Wilcox called the interception a “heck of a play” and added that Weaver is “just a football player through and through — a true competitor.”
But it wasn’t just Weaver who stood out against the Huskies, in what may be a signature win for the Cal program. Saturday’s win demonstrated domination by a Cal defense that has, for the most part, been sensational this season. After Cal allowed 122 yards in the first quarter to a powerhouse Washington team, the defense gave up just 128 yards over the rest of the game. Washington scored only three points in the game’s final 52 minutes.
Cornerback Cam Bynum had a sensational interception, where he leapt and — it’s not entirely clear how — managed to tap a toe in-bounds to come down with the pick on a play where it looked like Washington quarterback Jake Browning may have been trying to just throw the ball away.
“I was scared to get too excited at first because I didn’t know if I was in(bounds) or not,” Bynum said. “I was turnt.”
After Bynum left the post-game press conference, he walked into the locker room, roaring, “Let’s go!”
But as good as the defense was, they had some help from Washington head coach Chris Petersen, who made the head-scratching decision to pull Browning, a four-year starter and one of the most effective quarterbacks in Pac-12 history, and replace him with redshirt freshman Jake Haener in the third quarter. Haener’s first pass missed a wide-open receiver badly, and the second resulted in the pick-six by Weaver that proved pivotal.
After the game, Petersen said he was just trying to do something to spark his offense, which was floundering against the Bears’ shutdown defense.
“I was going to give Haener a few series and then get (Browning) back there and see if we could get something going,” Petersen said. “We will learn from it and move forward. The one thing is that I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over— going to try to do something to help these guys out.”
Cal’s defense was unfazed by the change at quarterback. The Bears’ coaches told the defense that Haener was a mobile quarterback who liked to take risks.
“Really, it doesn’t matter who’s in at quarterback for them,” Kunaszyk said. “We know that we’ve just got to play our game, play the defense we know we’re capable of playing.”
Added Weaver, “Just another guy in a jersey. That’s it.”
Throughout the game, the offense never turned the ball over, reversing a major problem in Cal’s three-game losing stretch. And as the clock wound down, when it was up to Cal’s offense to seal the deal, the offense did just that. The group knew they just had to keep moving the ball forward.
“The O-line, those guys were fired up,” Laird said. “(Will Craig, Pat Mekari, Addison Ooms, Valentino Daltoso and Jake Curhan) had a little huddle right before that drive, the five of them that were about to go out. I was going to try to sneak in, but they wouldn’t let me. Those five guys, they were saying, ‘Two first downs, two first downs,’ and they put it in their mind that they were going to get some push, and there was.”
This article originally appeared here.