A bit out of character for the Phoenix in their fourth week, who normally play tight, nerve-wrenchingly close games — the No. 16 team in the country cruised to an early 28 point lead, and eventually rolled their way to a 49-17 walloping of Oregon State.
The game was essentially over by the fourth drive, as the Phoenix bombarded the Beavers with a vicious opening sequence that defies traditional transcription:
- first Phoenix drive: Le touchdown pass to Terrance 1116 (7-0)
- first Beaver drive: forced fumble by Jaemie Paraon on Storm Woods, recovered by linebacker Darryl Hale
- second Phoenix drive: a 24 yard carry by Toyofuku takes California to the 7 yard line, slant pass complete to Isaac Wolf for a touchdown (14-0)
- second Beaver drive: Artem Romanov sack on 2nd down, Willie Maddox interception on third down
- third Phoenix drive: key 4th and 6 conversion by Wolf sets up a short touchdown run by Toyofuku (21-0)
- third Beaver drive: fumbled kickoff return at the OSU 22
- fourth Phoenix drive: short touchdown run by Toyofuku (28-0)
The first quarter had not even elapsed at that point, and there was still more misery to come for Mike Riley’s crew. Oregon State would eventually get on the board with 1:48 to play in the half, courtesy of a touchdown reception by Brian Townsend, but that would make little difference, as California would continue to steamroll them the rest of the way, and it could have been far worse, had it not been for two red zone turnovers by the Phoenix.
A dominant and physical Phoenix defensive performance was made possible with the help of five total forced fumbles, four from their freshmen starters, including Paraon with two.
Offensive stats: Le – 22-29, 276, 5 TD, 2 INT, 7-46; Toyofuku – 23-153-2; Novak – 8-134-2; Williams – 6-75-1; Wolf – 5-46-1
Defensive stats: Paraon – 7 tackles, 2 forced fumbles; Yip – 6 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack; Moty – 4 tackle, 1 tfl, 1 sack, 1 FF; Romanov – 3 tackle, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF; Yee – 2 tackles, PD
Week five would bring a date with the USC Trojans, but the story was all about tight end Ethan Novak, who set the program record for career touchdown catches late in the third quarter, helping the Phoenix escape the Colliseum with a 42-31 victory.
Indeed, on an afternoon when the Phoenix proved unable to cover either Darreus Rogers or Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, they needed both of Novak’s scores — his second broke a 21-21 late in the third quarter, giving California a lead they would not relinquish, despite being challenged repeatedly by the Trojans.
On the ensuing drive, linebacker Darryl Hale came up with a key sack to force USC’s first punt, and a subsequent touchdown pass from Le to Isaac Williams would give California some breathing room at 35-21.
The Trojans would score ten consecutive points after that, off of a Buck Allen touchdown and another 36 yard field goal, but it was not enough to overcome the deficit. Instead, seeing their lead cut to just four, California proceeded to drain the clock, rolling deep into USC territory thanks to their ground game and the Fawkes formation.
Toyofuku’s short touchdown run from inside the five would end up icing it, providing the final margin, and more importantly, a 5-0 record.
Novak has largely kept silent this season, but promised us a sit down interview at the end of the season, saying that he was simply trying to enjoy his last year first, and that retrospectives would come later.
Offensive stats: Le 15-21, 184, 3TD, 1INT, 6 carries, 85 yards; Toyofuku: 18-100-2; Williams: 5-87-1; Novak: 4-45-2; Wolf: 3-37
Defensive stats: Moty: 8 (3TFL); Paraon: 5 (1TFL); Romanov: 4 (1TFL) 1 INT; Yip: 2 tackles; Yee: 2 tackles
With five wins in five weeks, though, the Phoenix set themselves up to qualify for a bowl earlier than ever before — a victory over their avian adversaries at Oregon would ensure exactly that.
“That would be nice,” Coach White admitted days before their visit to Autzen. “One less thing to worry about. Then we can turn our sights to the seventh, eighth wins and so on.”
White got his wish on Saturday, thanks largely to the record-breaking efforts of Josh Toyofuku, who may have launched his Heisman campaign with a 5 touchdown, 158 rushing yard effort. The junior running back from Long Beach, California, found the end zone on scoring runs of 2, 2, 3, 4, and 15 yards each.
The Phoenix needed every one in order to pull away with the 49-42 win, their sixth in a row on the year.
“If people wanna talk about the Heisman, then start talking about the Heisman,” Toyofuku said of his game. “I’ll just be trying my hardest to produce for this team. I think I’m the best back out there but obviously I’m a little biased. Winning the award would be awesome, even just going to New York would be awesome!”
“But a championship is still the most important to me. Yes, having that trophy at my house would be cool but having that crystal ball here on campus is much more important. That’s all I’m gonna say about the Heisman for the rest of the season,” Toyofuku continued, before closing his press conference with the team’s trademark “Phoenix Up”.
At halftime, the score stood 21-14 in favor of California, thanks to the first two Toyofuku touchdowns and a touchdown toss from Le to Terrance 16.
The Ducks would receive the kickoff to start the quarter, but that was when the game began to turn, thanks to a performance even more surprising than Toyofuku’s mind-bogglingly large numbers. Oft-maligned for his poor hands — five passes defensed on the year, but several dropped interceptions — freshman cornerback Ben Yee was perhaps the day’s most crucial performer, securing a Jake Rodrigues pass for his first career interception, and then scampering down the sideline for a 52 yard touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
That would set up a series of scores from both teams, with neither the Phoenix nor the Ducks able to stop the other from that point forward — Rodrigues shook off that mistake and proceeded to torch the California secondary for an Oregon record 500 yards and five touchdowns on 24 of 32 passing.
“Our offense picked it up for us today,” outside linebacker Ethan Yip said.
Still, those gaudy statistics would not be enough to actually get them a win. Toyofuku made sure of that, and as a result, the Phoenix are bowl bound once again.
Which, though, remains very much up in the air.
Offensive Stats: Le: 18-27, 261, 1 TD, 1 INT, 11 caries for 24 yards; Toyofuku: 21-158-5; Wolf: 7-120; Williams: 6-72;
Defensive Notables: Moty: 6 tackles (TFL); Yee: 4 tackles, PD, INT;