OXFORD, Miss. (AP) California linebacker Evan Weaver finished with 22 tackles Saturday against Mississippi. The last one was the most important.
Weaver tackled Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee for no gain at the 1-yard line as time expired to preserve No. 23 Cal’s 28-20 victory over the Rebels. Weaver crashed hard from the right flank, wrapped up Plumlee and stopped his progress as help arrived to finish the play.
“Just stop the guy with the ball. Keep him from crossing the white stripe,” Weaver said. “We got some push in the middle and put it in them.”
Cal coach Justin Wilcox, whose team is 4-0 for the first time since 2015, was not surprised. Weaver led every statistical category defensively for the Golden Bears, who let a late 28-13 cushion nearly disappear in the final six minutes.
“Weaver has 22 tackles. When was the last time we didn’t talk about what a great player he is? He produces every week,” Wilcox said. “He’s a really good player. We’re proud of him.”
The last-minute heroics almost overshadowed a brilliant performance from Chase Garbers, who threw for four touchdowns and finished 23 of 35 for 357 yards. Touchdown passes of 9 and 60 yards to Jordan Duncan and Jake Tonges on the opening two possessions of the second half preserved a lead Cal never surrendered.
“Chase was awesome. It’s not even close. That’s the best game he has played,” Wilcox said. “The receivers did a really nice job. I was impressed how Chase looked so comfortable. He was really confident out there.”
Cal finished with 433 yards of total offense, including first-half touchdown passes by Garbers of 6 and 13 yards by Trevon Clark and Christopher Brown Jr. The Golden Bears were efficient offensively, managing 6 of 12 in third-down situations and 3 of 3 in the red zone, capped by touchdowns.
The Rebels (2-2, 1-0 SEC) got strong performances from quarterbacks Matt Corral and Plumlee, who led the final two possessions. Corral had a 1-yard scoring run and was 22 of 41 passing for 266 yards before leaving with a rib injury. The Rebels had 525 yards of total offense but failed on two scoring opportunities with missed field goals.
Plumlee was 7 of 7 for 82 yards in the final six minutes. Jerrion Early scored on a 15-yard run with 4:29 left to cap Plumlee’s first series. The Rebels went 89 yards in 10 plays in the final 2:45, finished by the defensive play from Weaver.
“We had a great opportunity today, but we just didn’t make enough plays to win the game,” Mississippi coach Matt Luke said. “Matt did well but we’ve got to look at the rib injury. John Rhys made the most of his opportunity.”
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Before Weaver’s decisive play, Plumlee had completed a third-down pass to Elijah Moore at the 1-yard line with less than 15 seconds remaining. Luke believed Moore had crossed the goal line on the reception and was pleading with the game officials to stop the clock for a look at the replay.
“I thought at the very least, it should have been buzzed and reviewed,” Luke said. “We didn’t have a timeout. We could not spike it. Our only option was to get a quarterback sneak and get the ball off.”
Instead, the Pac-12 officials quickly marked the ball at the 1-yard line and the Rebels beat the clock to attempt a scoring quarterback sneak by Plumlee. The unsuccessful sneak was reviewed and confirmed by officials after time expired.
Ole Miss interim athletic director Keith Carter also expressed disappointment in the officiating.
The Rebels “are expecting a full explanation from the Pac-12 regarding the call and subsequent non-review of the 3rd down play,” Carter tweeted. “We feel strongly that the play should have been reviewed by the Pac-12 officials in the review booth. Even if the play didn’t result in a touchdown, the spot of the ball on 4th down was questionable.”
California: The Golden Bears overcame a cross-country road trip, an early kickoff time – especially for a Pac-12 team – and a serious late charge to earn the victory. This win should raise expectations about Wilcox’s team after flying under the radar nationally early this season.
“When you come down here and play in this environment, against those coaches and athletes and win like we had to win, it builds confidence,” he said. “This is important to us and definitely is a step in the right direction.”
Ole Miss: Any margin for error in a bid for postseason play was erased in a second nonconference loss; the first was at Memphis. The Rebels, while showing flashes of improvement, are still a work in progress as the most difficult section of the schedule remains.
Winning on the road against an SEC opponent under late-game pressure should be good enough for the Golden Bears to move up a few plots.
California: The Golden Bears return to Pac-12 play by hosting No. 24 Arizona State on Saturday night.
Ole Miss: The Rebels begin a stretch of five consecutive SEC opponents with a visit to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday.