BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Payton Thorne threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Rovaldo Fairweather following California’s third missed field goal of the game and Tigers rallied for a 14-10 victory on Saturday night.
“I don’t think we could have played any uglier or sloppier on offense. I’m really proud of our defense,” coach Hugh Freeze said. “All the credit goes to to to that side of the ball tonight. There’s going to be nights where we can score 50 and we might have to to win. And there’s going to be times where they got to hold them to 10 and we got to score 11. This is one of those nights with how poorly we played on our offense.”
Auburn (2-0) had been stagnant most of the night offensively, generating only six first downs in the first three quarters before putting together a 69-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter to take the lead.
The key play on the drive was a 28-yard pass from Thorne to Fairweather to convert a third-and-17.
The Golden Bears (1-1) had a chance to come back after Jarquez Hunter lost a fumble for at Auburn at the Tigers 41 with 4:00 left. Cal drove down to the 15 but got backed up by a holding penalty and then Sam Jackson V threw an interception in the end zone on fourth and 13 with 1:44 to play.
Auburn ran out the clock from there, winning the game despite four turnovers and only 230 yards of offense.
“We found a way to win and we can grow from that,” Freeze said. “I think that’s what this season’s really about, is us finding a way to grow and and get better each week. We got better defensively tonight. We took a step back offensively. It’s very uncharacteristic. We really take pride everywhere we’ve been in not having many penalties and not turning the ball over and boy tonight was not that.”
The Bears were also done in by the special teams mishaps with Michael Luckhurst missing two field goals from 42 yards and another from 44 to give him five missed field goals in two games this season. He also had a 51-yarder taken off the board by a holding penalty late in the first half.
“We had a great opportunity that we let slip through our hands,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “It’s very frustrating, extremely frustrating. … Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. I don’t feel sorry for us. We have to do better. We have the guys to do it. Unfortunately, we had so many chances but couldn’t do it.”
This game was a complete reversal from the style both teams played in lopsided openers against overmatched teams. Cal and Auburn combined for 117 points last week in wins over North Texas and Massachusetts, respectively, but came nowhere close to matching that output in their first meeting ever.
Auburn got off to a rough start with Thorne losing a fumble on the first drive of the game. The Tigers had three turnovers and four first downs for the entire first half but only trailed 10-7.
Cal missed a 41-yard field goal, had a 51-yarder negated by a holding penalty and lost a fumble at its own 17 to set up Auburn’s only TD of the half on Thorne’s 13-yard pass to Jay Fair.
The Bears got their only TD of the half on Jaydn Ott’s 14-yard run after Damari Alston lost a fumble for Auburn.
Auburn: Thorne, a transfer from Michigan State, struggled in his second start for the Tigers. He finished 9 for 14 for 94 yards with two turnovers but did have the two TD passes. Eugene Asante was the star defensively with 12 tackles, a sack and a pass breakup.
California: The Bears failed to take advantage of prime scoring chances, netting only three points on three drives that started at the Auburn 35 or closer in the first half. They had eight drives in all that got inside the Auburn 40 and came away with only 10 points on those possessions.
“We just had so many self-inflicted wounds,” Jackson said.
Auburn: Hosts Samford on Saturday.
California: Hosts Idaho on Saturday.