EVANSTON, Ill. — There wasn’t much for California to celebrate last season, so after starting this one off with a tight victory, the emotions spilled out.
The locker room scene was a wild one.
“It was haywire, hectic,” quarterback Jared Goff said after Cal knocked off Northwestern 31-24. “We did the ‘Bear Territory’ chant about eight times. It was an unbelievable experience and I’m looking forward to more of them.”
Goff threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns, Jalen Jefferson had a key interception, and California hung on to beat Northwestern in the opener.
The Golden Bears looked like they were on their way to an easy victory up 31-7 in the third quarter.
Instead, they had to sweat this one out.
Northwestern got two touchdowns in a 25-second span late in the third to pull within 10.
Jack Mitchell added a 24-yard field goal with 5:18 left in the game to make it 31-24, and the Wildcats were threatening to score again when Jefferson came up big.
With Northwestern on the California 27, he sacked Trevor Siemian for an 11-yard loss.
On the next play, he picked off a tipped pass that was intended for Pierre Youngblood-Ary at the 15, and the Golden Bears came away with the win after dropping 16 straight to FBS opponents.
The late rally aside, it was a rough afternoon for Northwestern.
The Wildcats are trying to steer attention toward their play after being engulfed by the unionization debate with former quarterback Kain Colter leading the movement, and this was not what they had in mind.
Coming off a 5-7 season, they couldn’t slow Cal’s up-tempo offense or get anything going when they had the ball in the early going.
Goff, who threw for more than 3,500 yards as a freshman, was 21 of 34 with an interception.
Trevor Davis caught a 76-yard touchdown. California racked up 414 yards to come away with the win after going 1-11 in coach Sonny Dykes’ first season.
Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian, who shared the quarterback job with Colter the past two years, threw for 229 yards.
“He squeezed the ball a little bit and sailed some that were uncharacteristic,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I can’t remember the last time I saw the ball sail like that since he’s been here.
“... We had a lot of drops. There’s enough blame to go around.”
Cameron Dickerson had a 54-yard touchdown reception, but the Wildcats came up short after making things interesting down the stretch.