BERKELEY — Cal tried to make this look easy, but couldn’t do it.
The Bears, desperate to snap a four-game losing streak, had three leads of 14 points against Washington State in the first half and seemed in control of things after building a 42-24 advantage with 9:26 left.
But the Cougars scored twice in a span of 2 minutes and 10 seconds, pulling within 42-39 when Cameron Ward threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Djouvensky Schenbacker with 7:33 to play.
The Bears escaped with the three-point victory only after Dean Janikowski missed wide left on a 48-yard field goal try with 50 seconds left.
WSU got the ball once more, at its own 30-yard line with 22 seconds left and no timeouts. The Cougars got as far as the 47 before Ward’s pass bounced off the hands of Kyle Williams at the 2-yard line and was secured by Cal linebacker Cade Uluave as time expired.
Cal (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) earned its first win since Sept. 30 and kept alive its hopes of playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2019. The Bears must beat Stanford next Saturday in the Big Game then knock off UCLA in Pasadena to become bowl-eligible.
WSU (4-6, 1-6) lost for the sixth straight game after winning its first four to reach No. 13 in the AP Top 25 and needs wins over Colorado and No. 5 Washington to earn bowl consideration.
Jaydn Ott ran for 167 yards to pass 1,000 for the season and scored touchdowns rushing and receiving, and the Cal defense’s much-maligned defense had six sacks, forced four turnovers, and accounted for a pair of scores.
Ott’s 5-yard TD run with 11:14 left put him over 1,000 and gave Cal a 35-24 lead.
Less than 2 minutes later, outside linebacker David Reese knocked the ball loose from WSU quarterback Cam Ward — Reese’s third sack and second forced fumble of the day — and cornerback Nohl Williams ran it in from 52 yards. That pushed the lead to 18 points.
But it was far from over.
Cal led 28-21 at halftime, thanks in large part to a pair of costly WSU turnovers.
Freshman inside linebacker Uluave recovered a pair of fumbles, picking up the first one on a quarterback seat attempt by Ward and returning it 51 yards for a touchdown that gave Cal a 7-0 lead just 2:41 into the game.
Reese’s 18-yard strip-sack of Ward led to Uluave’s second recovery, this one at the WSU 19-yard line. Quarterback Fernando Mendoza passed 13 yards to Ott for the touchdown on a fourth-and-4 play, giving the Bears a 28-14 lead with 3:11 left in the half.
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In between, Mendoza sold the defense on a keeper, stopped and delivered a 6-yard TD pass to wide-open tight end Jack Endries for a 14-0 lead with 17 seconds left in the first quarter.
After the Cougars closed to 14-7, center Brian Driscoll lived out an offensive lineman’s dream when he pounced on a fumble by Ott in the end zone for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
WSU outgained Cal 231 yards to 167 and even managed 64 rushing yards a week after being held to 4 in a 10-7 home loss to Stanford. But the two turnovers gave the Bears a pair of scores.