Cal holds off UC Davis 27-13 in opener

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BERKELEY — Christopher Brown Jr. had never been called into a postgame press conference before, so the Cal running back needed a little help to get settled in.

The way Brown ran the ball in the Golden Bears’ season opener, he might as well get used to it.

Brown rushed for a career-high 197 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries in his first start, and Cal overcame a sloppy first half and beat UC Davis 27-13 on Saturday.

“We were trained for this and we were overly prepared for this,” Brown said. “That played a big role in how many touches we get, how many plays we get. It’s really the guys up front that made the holes. I just ran. They blocked.”

Brown, a seldom-used backup to Patrick Laird last season, provided the biggest spark and became the first Cal running back to go over 100 yards in his first start since Jahvid Best in 2008.

“We knew Chris would get the ball a lot,” Bears coach Justin Wilcox said. “That’s what we expect of him. He’s a big, physical guy and this is his type of game. Give it to him and let him break tackles. Probably more touches and more yards than he had all last year. He’s been preparing for this.”

That was critical on a day when Cal’s passing game was hit-and-miss for most of the afternoon.

Quarterback Chase Garbers shrugged off two turnovers and completed 16 of 28 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns, both to Kekoa Crawford. Greg Thomas kicked a pair of field goals, including a career-best 47-yarder, as the Golden Bears won their third consecutive opener under Wilcox.

“We weren’t in sync but it wasn’t panic,” Wilcox said. “We battled back and got into some rhythm on both sides of the ball. We just made it really difficult on ourselves at times.”

Cal won despite four turnovers, including a fumble by Ashtyn Davis on the opening kickoff. That set up a short touchdown run by Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. and the Aggies went up 10-0 on a field goal by Max O’Rourke before the Bears rallied.

Brown’s 5-yard touchdown in the third quarter helped put the Bears up 20-13. He later carried four times for 21 yards to set up Garbers’ second touchdown throw to Crawford, a 26-yarder that was tipped near the goal line by Davis cornerback Jaylin White.

“Offensively we just came out too loose,” Garbers said. “We were kind of lackadaisical to start. We regrouped and came out and did what we do.”

Jake Maier, the Big Sky Conference player of the year, completed 19 of 37 passes for 173 yards for UC Davis.

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