I accidentally exited this game, so this is not exact anymore, but whatever. I’m running it. We lost anyway.
And so they have risen again – 12 years after their football program was defunded by university budget cuts, the California Phoenix finally found their way back to a field, traveling to Clemson’s Memorial Stadium to open the 2013 campaign.
For the few Phoenix fans who waited for this moment, it was certainly worth the wait, as their beloved Blue very nearly turned No. 9 Clemson’s championship hopes to ash, giving the Tigers all they could handle before losing 31-30 in an overtime heartbreaker.
Clemson running back Roderick McDowell opened the scoring early in the first quarter with a 50 yard touchdown run up the left sideline, bursting away from several would be tacklers.
After the Phoenix failed on 4th and short from the Clemson 33, the Tigers took the field, smelling a knockout blow early on, as they have so often done with overmatched Sun Belt opponents.
It didn’t come.
Defensive end Darryl Hale tackled McDowell for a huge loss to set up 3rd and 5 from the California 28, and Tajh Boyd was picked off on the very next play by Phoenix cornerback Slade Leonard.
Nothing would come out of that turnover, however, as freshman quarterback Nam Le tossed one of his own, simply not seeing a linebacker who had dropped into coverage on running back Josh Toyofuku. He would finish with two on the evening.
Not to be outdone by Leonard, California safety Johnny Stovall would grab an interception as well, one upping his teammate by returning it 72 yards for a touchdown and tying the game at 7-all.
After another Clemson punt, Le would put the famed Phoenix “System” in high gear, driving California down the field for a score. Using both his arms and his legs – Le ran for 21 yards on the drive – his short pass to fellow freshman Isaac Williams would put the Phoenix ahead 14-7.
Tajh Boyd would answer with a 10 yard touchdown run to tie it up with 1:22 to go in the first half.
Clemson would tack on a field goal after intermission, but the Phoenix would not be denied, as Toyofuku bullied his way into the end zone for a short score to make it 21-17.
The Tigers would not go away so easily, though, and Boyd marched his unit back down the field with some clutch passes, eventually finding Sammy Watkins for a three yard touchdown to put Clemson back ahead 24-21.
With under four minutes to play, California took over from their own 19 yard line needing only a field goal to tie and methodically pushed their way down the field to do it, thanks largely to the rushing efforts of Toyofuku, who carried for two first downs on his own. The Long Beach native would finish with 90 yards on 19 touches. Freshman tight end Ethan Novak had a key fourth down conversion as well.
The potential touchdown drive eventually stalled out deep in Clemson territory, but Nguyen Le – brother of Nam – launched a 33 yard field goal to tie it with 17 seconds to go, forcing overtime, where California won the toss and elected to play defense first.
Boyd completed three quick passes in the first extra period, finding the end zone with a strike to Martavis Bryant and putting all the pressure on the Phoenix, who would need a touchdown to keep the game going.
They got it when Le took a zone read carry into the end zone from 20 yards out, sending the California sideline into a frenzy. Sensing that his team could not keep up in a shootout with the Tigers, head coach Walter White decided to go for two – and on the final play of the game, Le was sacked, unable to find any open receiver down at the goal line.
Visibly distraught, Le laid on the field for a good minute at the game’s conclusion, before being lifted up by his teammates.
Despite the loss, there was hardly anything to be upset about for California. The Phoenix remain very, very short on talent, but head coach Walter White does have some to work with, having recruiting not one, not two, not three, but four five star prospects in his first year.
In a bit of an odd situation, White was able to convince childhood friends Le, Novak, Williams and Toyofuku to come to California, which is clearly rebuilding and should not be competitive for quite a while. That clearly didn’t bother any of the self-proclaimed “Fabtastic Four”, though, who have promised to bring a BCS Championship home to California before they graduate – indeed, all four cited the desire to build a legacy as the primary reason for coming to California in the first place.
They’re not off to a bad start, from the looks of it.
Le – 18/26, 204 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 11.3 YPA, 9 carries, 52 yards
Toyofuku – 19 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD
Williams – 6 catches, 91 yards, 1 TD
Novak – 3 catches, 22 yards
Lorenzo Townes (MLB) – 10 tackles, 3 for loss
Johnny Stovall (FS) – 2 tackles, 1 INT
Jovon Shaffer (CB) – 3 tackles, 1 DEF
Tajh Boyd – 19-24, 324 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INT, 17.0 YPA
Roderick McDowell – 13 carries, 93 yards
Sammy Watkins – 4 catches, 112 yards, 1 TD
Stephone Anthony – 5 tackles, 2 INTs
Grady Jarrett – 4 tackles, 3 TFL