It came down to a field goal. With 1:57 left in Saturday’s football game against California and down by one point, the Rams sent junior kicker Jeff Babcock onto the field to save the day.
“I didn’t want to hop on a plane and go home to Tampa (Fla., where his family lives),” Babcock said. “That’s if I had made it to the airport without getting killed.”
Babcock’s 32-yard kick split the uprights and gave the Rams a 23-21 lead. With less than two minutes left to play the defense came onto the field and sophomore cornerback Ben Stratton came up with an interception to thwart Cal’s hopes of winning in front of a season-high 34,096 fans at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif.
“It would be a crime if we lost after playing so well for more than three quarters,” CSU head coach Sonny Lubick told the Denver Post.
Senior quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt once again proved that he was more than a one-dimensional player by completing 15-of-23 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns and leading the team in rushing with 60 yards.
Van Pelt showed his composure in the fourth quarter when he found sophomore tight end Matt Bartz on a fourth-and-three conversion attempt. Bartz took the ball down to Cal’s 20-yardline and gave the Rams the field position they needed for Babcock to secure the victory.
Babcock hit all three of his field goal attempts and made a drastic improvement from last week when he missed two field goals in a loss to Colorado.
The defense also showed off its skills allowing only 299 total yards to a powerful Cal offense Saturday. This after the defense was scorched against CU last week to the tune of 504 yards.
“I’m just so darned proud of our defense,” Lubick said in a postgame news conference. “They really played gang-busters and really stuffed a team that had put 34 points and 400 yards on Southern Miss and 28 points and 400 yards on K-State.”
The game started with each team trading off punting the ball to each other. Babcock was punting and kicking field goals and before long the Rams found themselves in field goal range. Babcock came on and nailed a 48-yard field goal to give CSU the lead.
The Golden Bears responded by marching 80 yards down the field with quarterback Reggie Robinson completing a pass to wide receiver Vincent Strang for a 30-yard touchdown. This came with 4:42 left in the first quarter. Cal wouldn’t score again until the fourth quarter.
Not to be outdone Van Pelt found senior tight end Joel Dreessen in the first play of the ensuing drive for an 85-yard touchdown completion. And just like that, the Rams were up again, 10-7.
Cal managed to get the ball to CSU’s 45-yard line before Robinson threw a pass to CSU senior linebacker Eric Pauly with 35 seconds left in the first quarter.
Van Pelt took the Rams down the field finally completing a 25-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver David Anderson for another touchdown to give the Rams a 17-7 lead.
Neither team came up with a successful drive for the rest of the half, and the Rams took their 10-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Rams received the ball after halftime and the first drive set up Babcock’s 27-yard field goal. The Rams were outplaying Cal in every facet of the game and the game appeared in hand.
Complacency, however, is never a good thing and when Cal’s quarterback hooked up with wide receiver Geoff McArthur for a 6-yard touchdown reception, the Rams had to pay attention.
With the momentum finally going their way, the Golden Bears recovered a Van Pelt fumble on the Rams 17-yard line. With the first play Robertson again found McArthur and the extra point by Tyler Frederickson gave Cal a one-point, 21-20 lead.
With 6:34 left to play in the game the Rams were able to set up a time consuming drive that culminated in Babcock’s game winning field goal with 1:57 left to play. Ben Stratton got an interception on the first play of Cal’s next drive allowing the Rams to run the clock down to 4 seconds before punting the ball away.
The Rams shut out Cal for most of the game and the defense shut up any critics.
CSU plays Weber State Saturday in the team’s first game at Hughes Stadium this season.