Cal beats North Carolina 24-17 in opener

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BERKELEY — Rotating three quarterbacks had mixed results for Cal in its season-opening win over North Carolina.

The Golden Bears defense that forced four interceptions and only allowed a field goal through three quarters more than made up for it.

Patrick Laird rushed for one touchdown and caught another, Cal’s defense took advantage of a rocky outing from North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott, and the Bears held off the Tar Heels 24-17 on Saturday.

“This was a defensive win today,” Laird said.

Cameron Goode had one of four interceptions for Cal and scored on a 38-yard return before leaving in the fourth quarter with a possible leg injury. Cornerback Jaylinn Hawkins had two picks.

“It’s really hard to lose a game when you force four turnovers and don’t give up any,” Cal linebacker Evan Weaver said. “The secondary, they like to talk a lot. When they back it up, it’s awesome.”

Cal’s defense came up big on a day when the Bears rotated three quarterbacks — often during the same series — and were limited to 119 passing yards.

Ross Bowers started for the Bears but was in and out of the game. Chase Garbers threw for one touchdown while Brandon McIlwain also split time running the offense.

“When you add some of the things that Chase does and Brandon (does) in terms of running the ball, it just adds another dimension and can get people in more one-on-one situations,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “That was the reason for it.”

Laird plodded his way to 95 yards on 29 carries. He had a 3-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Garbers in the third.

Antonio Williams scored on a 3-yard run for North Carolina. Anthony Ratliff-Williams added a 14-yard touchdown catch.

“Turnovers and penalties, that’s the game right there,” Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said. “Self-inflicted wounds is what those are.”

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