Colorado 44, California 28
How it happened: CU played its most complete game of the season. Steven Montez and Phillip Lindsay led a strong performance by the offense, while the defense had one of its better games of the year.
Turning point: Leading 14-7 near the end of the first quarter, CU's defense dialed up the pressure and forced a Cal punt. The Buffs then responded with another touchdown to take a 21-7 lead. They never looked back.
CU's stars of the game
QB Steven Montez: Threw for 347 yards and three TDs and ran for a score.
WR Shay Fields: Caught four passes for 101 yards and a TD.
S Nick Fisher: Had a 100-yard interception return for TD to seal the win.
OLB Derek McCartney: Had a sack and two pass breakups in leading the defensive charge.
Bottom line: The Buffs — and Montez — needed this one in a big, big way. They still have work to do, but beating the Bears brings them closer to bowl eligibility and gives them momentum going forward. Perhaps most importantly, their quarterback regained his focus.
Benched, humbled and disrespected, Steven Montez came out fighting.
Colorado's sophomore quarterback responded to the worst game of his career with one of his best, leading the Buffaloes to a 44-28 victory against California on Saturday at Folsom Field.
Quarterback competition? That's last week's news.
A week after being benched, Montez threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for a score in helping the Buffs (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) inch closer to bowl eligibility and earn the 700th win in program history.
"It fired me up," the sophomore said of his benching. "I was really upset all week and just really wanted to get back to the drawing board because I felt like I let my team down against Washington State. I felt like I needed to get back and kind of make a statement."
In reality, it was something the entire team needed to do after an embarrassing 28-0 loss at Washington State on Oct. 21. At the center of that defeat, however, was Montez.
CU's starting quarterback all season, Montez was 4-for-13 for 21 yards in the first half against Wazzu on a rainy, windy night. Redshirt freshman Sam Noyer played the second half of that game, and head coach Mike MacIntyre said afterward that the two would compete for the job this past week.
"I'm almost 100 percent sure that's the first time Steven's ever been benched in his entire career, because he's always been the best athlete on the field," MacIntyre said. "How he handled that showed a lot of his character and his work ethic. I think it also showed his trust in us, that he was trusting us to do the best thing for the team. He's a very confident young man, but to me, that showed he's wasn't cocky. That' where I think he reached down in his soul and was able to push himself to get better."
MacIntyre, in fact, said he thought the competition made both quarterbacks get better this past week, but it was Montez who earned the starting job against Cal, and he seized the moment.
Montez completed 20 of 26 passes for 347 yards — the second-best total of his career — and three touchdowns. He also ran for 17 yards and a touchdown.
It certainly wasn't a one-man show, as Shay Fields caught four passes for 101 yards, Phillip Lindsay rushed for 161 yards, and Nick Fisher returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes to cement the victory over the Bears (4-5, 1-5).
Montez set the tone, however, and said the benching was a blessing in disguise.
"If all that wouldn't have happened, who knows? I guess we'll really never know," he said. "I think it was a blessing for sure, for the fact that it just refocused what I needed to do and refocused how fired up I was and how unproven I felt this week. I felt like I had a huge chip on my shoulder. I had to prove to everybody why I should be out there and why I should be playing. I think we did that today."
Montez was about as sharp as he's been all year on his passes, but most importantly he was sharp in his reads, and how he ran the offense.
For the first time in a while - perhaps all season - Montez appeared to be in sync with his top receivers, Fields and Devin Ross (four catches, 65 yards). Montez threw touchdown passes to both Fields and Ross - the first time either one has scored in six Pac-12 games this season.
Montez also hit the deep ball, which has been rare this season.
A 58-yard pass to freshman Laviska Shenault set up Montez's second-quarter touchdown run, from 7 yards out.
On CU's next possession, Montez connected with Fields for a 65-yard touchdown, which was the first deep ball those two have teamed up on this season. That made it 21-7, and the Buffs never looked back.
Montez added a touchdown pass to Jay MacIntyre in the fourth quarter, while James Stefanou went 3-for-3 on field goals.
With CU leading 37-21 late in the game and Cal threatening to score, Fisher then picked off a wobbly Ross Bowers pass. He took it about 109 yards - 100 officially - the other way for a touchdown.
CU's defense added four sacks and shut down the Cal run game, holding the Bears to 61 yards on 25 carries.
Overall, it may have been CU's most complete performance of the year, and it could not have come at a better time for a team that had lost four of five. The Buffs now take some momentum into their final three games of the year, needing to win just one of them to earn a second consecutive trip to a bowl game.
"We needed a win, bad," MacIntyre said. "Especially at home. I expect us to enjoy this tonight and get ready to try to find a way to try to beat Arizona State."
Colorado 44, California 28California 7 7 0 14 — 28
Colorado 14 13 0 17 — 44
First quarter: COL — Ross 22 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 9:20 CAL — Noa 15 pass from Wharton (M.Anderson kick), 4:33 COL — Montez 7 run (Stefanou kick), 1:42Second quarter: COL — Fields 65 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 11:53 COL — FG Stefanou 29, 7:05 CAL — Noa 27 pass from Bowers (M.Anderson kick), 1:16 COL — FG Stefanou 39, :00 Fourth quarter: COL — MacIntyre 23 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 13:17 CAL — Wharton 14 pass from Bowers (M.Anderson kick), 8:24 COL — FG Stefanou 37, 5:22 COL — Fisher 100 interception return (Stefanou kick), 2:34 CAL — Veasy 8 pass from Bowers (M.Anderson kick), :50
First downs 26 27
Rushes-yards 25-61 53-200
Passing 374 353
Comp-Att-Int 30-53-1 21-27-0
Return Yards 62 51
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 4-35 7-58
Time of Possession 28:09 31:51
RUSHING — California, Laird 13-52, Enwere 6-27, McMorris 1-3, Bowers 5-(minus 21). Colorado, Lindsay 33-161, Montez 13-17, Bisharat 3-14, Ross 1-11, (Team) 3-(minus 3).
PASSING — California, Wharton 1-1-0-15, Bowers 29-52-1-359. Colorado, Noyer 1-1-0-6, Montez 20-26-0-347.
RECEIVING — California, Veasy 7-111, Noa 7-108, Wharton 6-79, Laird 4-35, Singleton 2-26, Je.Hawkins 2-8, Enwere 1-8, McMorris 1-(minus 1). Colorado, MacIntyre 5-53, Fields 4-101, Ross 4-65, Bobo 3-34, Lindsay 2-23, Shenault 1-58, Bounds 1-13, Bisharat 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.