ANZ Stadium / Olympic Park Homebush, Sydney Australia
The University of California have began their 2016 college football season in fine style with a solid 20 point victory over the University of Hawaii 51-31 in Sydney Australia on Saturday. Played in perfect sunny conditions and with a big crowd of 61,ooo in attendance, the Sydney fans were treated to an entertaining game of college football.
New starting quarterback Davis Webb, running back Khalfani Muhammad and wide receiver Chad Hansen were the stars of the Cal Bears impressive 20 point victory over Hawaii. Whilst for the Warriors quarterback Ikaika Woolsey and running back Diocemy Saint Juste were the standout players for the ‘Bows as they fought hard all day to keep their team in the game.
The first half in particular was extremely competitive with the underdog Hawaii Warriors matching their highly fancied Cal opponents and could have been much closer had it not been for crucial penalties and turnovers.
If the Warriors were going to win the game they would have do something extraordinary and to their credit began the game with an on-side kick from Rigo Sanchez. It was worth a try, but the well-drilled Bears team were equal to the task and were able to gain possession via a Patrick Laird recovery at the Hawaii 48 yard line.
Then Davis Webb stepped onto the Sydney field for his debut game for the Cal Bears. His day would get even better as he threw for a superb 441 yards gaining 4 passing and 1 rushing touchdowns. California didn’t take too long to post points on the board. The Bears also took their chances on their first opening drive. On the Hawaii 39 yard line and with 4th and 1 to go, Webb handed off the ball to running back Khalfani Muhammad who easily gained the Bears first down with a five yard push. Webb’s next play would be an incomplete pass. In an almost identical play to the 4th and 1 call, Khalfani Muhammad took a hand-off from Webb and barrelled his way through for the game’s first touchdown. Muhammad can thank the Cal offensive line and to full back Malik McMorris as part of that successful drive as the big unit slammed into the Warrior defense and cut a path through for his team-mate to run through to the end-zone.
The following formation photos (above and below) clearly illustrate how Khalfani Muhammad was able to not only gain a first down on a 4th play, but the almost exact play was called again when he was able to score the Bears opening touchdown. Webb feigns a pass as Muhammad takes the football, Malik McMorris begins a down-hill run towards the right side of the Hawaii line.
The Cal offensive line pushes open the Hawaii defense and McMorris begins to slice a hole big enough for Muhammad to gain the first down via a 5 yard running play.
With excellent field position, on first and ten, the play was an incomplete pass from Davis Webb to Raymond Hudson. In the next down, it was an almost exact copy of the earlier 4th and 1 call, with the Cal offense again in pistol formation with Webb, Muhammad and McMorris ready to pounce. And pounce they did as the following formation photos below clearly illustrate the successful play. Malik McMorris was given extra assistance in his attempt to create a space for Khalfani Muhammad. This time offensive lineman Chris Barrayo assisted full-back McMorris. Both players ran hard at the Warriors defensive line. Cal’s Dwayne Wallace pulled to his left and special mention must go to Addison Ooms who made a crucial tackle on Hawaii defensive tackle Zeno Choi. As Choi lunged at the skipping Muhammad, Ooms was able to stop Choi’s tackle. With the holes created and dangers removed, Khalfani Muhammad turned on the after-burners and sped to a 34-yard gain and Cal’s first TD of the game.
With the play in motion, the Cal offensive line steps up a gear and backs up the power run of McMorris. Superb inner offensive line work by Steven Moore (64),Dwayne Wallace (62) and in particular Addison Ooms 57 (obscured) . His tackle on Hawaii’s Zeno Choi helped ensure Khalfani Muhammad was able to gain a free passage to the endzone. These formation photos of the Cal Bears first scoring drive clearly illustrate that in American football the battle of the defensive / offensive linemen have a significant impact on the outcome of the game. Whilst not as sexy as the efforts of the quarterback, wide receiver or running back plays, if you love gridiron football, the genius of this game can be found with the men upfront.
The Hawaii Warriors offense needed to respond to the Cal Bears quick opening drive. Warrior quarterback Ikaika Woolsey began the game nervously with a delay of game penalty, a dropped snap and then an intercepted pass in the first series. To the Warriors credit they were able to hold out the Cal offense on the next series and forced the Bears to punt. Ikaika Woolsey’s next drive was more composed as he took his team to their first touchdown of the year. He connected with wide receiver Marcus Kemp for a 39 yard touchdown. Kemp was close to the sidelines but managed to stay inbounds as he ran into the endzone. The extra-point kick by Rigo Sanchez was good and the Warriors were level with Cal 7-7.
Davis Webb began the next drive for the Cal Bears and it was pretty clear they would be employing a hurry-up, quick play offense. Faced with another 4th and short prospect, Webb delivered yet again facing pressure from the Warriors defense as he connected with a short pass to running back Vic Enwere for another Cal Bears first down. Webb cashed in on the great field position, connecting with senior wide receiver Chad Hanson who caught the ball in the same corner as the first Cal TD. The 17 yard catch and successful extra point conversion put the Bears back in the lead 14-7. Interestingly, after Hanson made the TD, he gestured with a two finger salute similar to an Australian Rules football goal umpire when signalling a goal. It was great to see Chad throw in some local culture into his scoring celebration.
Hawaii responded magnificently in their following plays with a super 53 yard running touchdown from running back Diocemy Saint Juste who weaved his way through the Cal defense. Sanchez kicked the extra point and the underdog Warriors were matching it with the game favorites in Cal 14-14.
The Cal Bears continued the offensive shootout when they began their next drive. Bears running back / kick returner Khalfani Muhammad was clearly the standout guy in the first quarter. He made a superb kick return of some 45 yards, then tacked on a brilliant, fast paced run of 40 yards. 85 yards in two plays was super impressive from the nuggety RB. Despite good field position the Hawaii defense were able to hold the Bears to a field goal. Nose tackle Samiuela Akoteo made his first ever career sack by taking down Davis Webb. The Cal Bears led 17-14 after a successful field goal attempt by Matt Anderson. The first quarter ended with Cal holding a 3 point lead over Hawaii.
At the start of the second quarter, Cal were forced to punt after being kept to 4th down by the Warriors. It was in this quarter, we believe the game was won and lost for Hawaii. Their first drive of the quarter looked promising with QB Woolsey throwing a long 32 yard pass to wide receiver John Ursua. Woolsey then held onto the ball and managed to gain 6 yards.Running back Paul Harris then picked up a ‘Bows first down. The key miss in this drive was a dropped, getable catch from tight-end Davasyia Hagger who spilled the ball a few yards from the end zone.
The turning point of the game came when the Hawaii Warriors kept the Cal Bears to a 4th down on their next drive. Yet inexplicably, a Warriors player illegally leaped above the wall in front of Cal punter Dylan Klumph. The rules deem it as a personal foul and it is punishable by a 15 yard penalty. This penalty gave the ball back to Cal and after this incident the Warriors were never able to control the Bears. The Warriors held out the Bears after the penalty for a field goal, but more points were about to be posted against them. During the kick return, Warriors returner Keelan Ewaliko looked to have made some good yardage with a 3o yard gain but all of this was undone when he fumbled the ball after a solid hit by Cal’s Derron Brown. The ball spilled free and the Bears eagerly secured the ball. Out strode Dylan Webb and on the very first play, with a screen pass, Webb connected with Chad Hanson who ran all the way to the endzone. Hansen had another touchdown and again he celebrated it with an Aussie Rules goal umpire style salute. This period cost the Warriors dearly, Cal Bears were up 27-14.
Hawaii were unable to score on their last drive of the quarter and gave the ball up to Cal. What we learnt from the Bears offense in this game was their ability to play good, up tempo offense. Their final drive of the quarter was a perfect example. Webb motioned his players to move quickly after each snap as he powered his team down the field with seconds remaining. The Warriors provided an assist during this drive with a holding penalty, which stopped the clock and moved the chains for the Bears. Davis Webb would score a solid running touchdown using his height and agility to get the ball over the endzone line. The Cal Bears led 34-14 at halftime.
The 2nd half began well for the Warriors who had to post some effective offense to remain in the game. Woolsey connected with a short 5 yard pass out wide to his running back Diocemy Saint Juste who then ate up the yards for a 34 yard gain on the play. Due to some stout defense from Cal, Hawaii were unable to score a touchdown and had to settle for a field goal. Cal still led 34-17.
The question facing the Cal Bears entering the second half was would they able to maintain their scoring and offensive pressure on the Warriors. That question was quickly answered as their first drive of the half began with a solid 24 yard kick-off return gain by Khalfani Muhammad. Davis Webb then drove his team all the way up the field for another Bears touchdown. Chad Hansen again teamed up with Davis Webb as he took another big receiving gain of 26 yards, putting his team in great field position. Webb then connected a few plays later with a nice 14 yard pass to slot receiver Melquise Stovall for the touchdown. The extra point was again good from Matt Anderson and the Bears had a firm grip on the game 41-17.
The Hawaii Warriors behind 24 points needed to try something different in order for them to somehow get back into the game. This time coach ‘Bows coach Nick Rolovich called on senior running back Steven Lakalaka. It was a successful call as in the next series, Lakalaka was involved in 9 plays of the drive carrying for 58 yards and a nailing solid running touchdown. It was Lakalaka’s first TD since 2014. The touchdown began with quarterback Ikaika Woolsey handing the ball off to Lakalaka who weaved his way through a path created by the Warriors lineman and a very faint pulse for Hawaii’s game chances remained. The 3rd quarter ended with Cal leading 41- 24.
The final quarter began well for Hawaii as Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea made a solid sack on the first play on Cal QB Davis Webb who experienced his second sack of the day. Kema-Kaleiwahea’s efforts forced the Bears to punt and Hawaii gained possession at their own 30 yard line. Unfortunately for Hawaii any slim chances they had of winning the game quickly evaporated when Devante Wilson forced a fumble from Diocemy Saint Juste. Luke Rubenzer grabbed a hold of the loose ball and Cal’s grip on the game was secured. Cal would finish the game adding a field goal and then a touchdown to their final score, whilst for the Warriors they would score a consolation touchdown. The final score Cal Bears 51 defeated the Hawaii Warriors 31
Cal Bears Individual stats at a glance:
Passing : QB Davis Webb 54 attempts / 38 completions Yards: 441 Touchdowns: 4 Longest pass: 34 yards Sacks : 2
Rushing: RB Khalfani Muhammad 10 carries 97 Yards Longest run: 40 yards. Touchdowns : 1
QB Davis Webb 4 carries 9 Yards Longest Run: 5 yards Touchdowns : 1
Receiving: WR Chad Hansen Catches: 14 Yards: 160 Longest : 34 yards Touchdowns: 2
WR Melqui Stovall Catches: 4 Yards: 61 Longest : 32 yards Touchdowns: 1
WR Jordan Veasy Catches: 2 Yards: 64 Longest : 33 yards Touchdowns: 1
Hawaii Individual stats at a glance:
Passing : QB Ikaika Woolsey 34 attempts / 17 completions Yards: 234 Touchdowns: 1 Longest pass: 39 yards Sacks : 0
Rushing: RB Diocemy Saint Juste 14 carries 118 Yards Longest run: 53 yards. Touchdowns : 1
QB Ikaika Woolsey 6 carries 39 Yards Longest Run: 30 yards Touchdowns : 0
RB Steven Lakalaka 11 carries 63 Yards Longest Run: 13 yards Touchdowns : 1
RB Paul Harris 7 carries 39 Yards Longest Run: 30 yards Touchdowns : 1
Receiving: WR Marcus Kemp Catches: 4 Yards: 73 Longest : 39 yards Touchdowns: 1
After the game Cal Bears head coach Sonny Dykes was pleased with the win but conceded work had to be down and gave credit to Hawaii “There always is pressure, when we sit down and watch the tape we’ll be happy we won the ball game and pleased about a lot of things, but we’re not satisfied with the way we ran the ball offensively, we were spotty at times, we had some big plays but didn’t consistently run it the way we want to run it and then obviously defensively weren’t as good against the run as we need to be. So I told the guys afterwards that’s what we want to improve on. “I thought Hawaii played well, they were very well coached. They kept mixing things up defensively and made some really nice adjustments in their running game and we had a hard time keeping up. Nick’s a really good football coach and he knows what he’s doing, and he’ll get Hawaii going”.
Whilst Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich was disappointed with the loss, overall he pleased with his team’s competitive effort “I liked the effort. I don’t think they quit, I thought they fought, but you cant give up possessions to that good of a football team”. We asked coach Rolovich a couple of questions at the post-match press conference.
The Cal Bears Post game presser. We asked quarterback Davis Webb & head coach Sonny Dykes a couple of questions. Video courtesy of Cal Bears Football Dept.
Sydney Cup an outstanding success
The Sydney Cup college football experience simply has to be described as a resounding success. Both Cal & Hawaii’s football programs are to be congratulated for their superb efforts and professionalism they brought to Sydney. The insight into how a college football team operates was a priceless experience. On Thursday morning in Daceyville at the University of New South Wales training facility, the media was given a rare glimpse into the very secret world of a Cal football walk-through. Coaches and players were only too happy to answer any and every question about the college football caper no matter how silly or absurd. It definitely was a cultural experience not only for the players but for the Australian media. Cal head coach Sonny Dykes when asked at the post-game press conference about his thoughts on Vegemite, he said he wasn’t a fan with all due respect and suggested a chocolate version could have changed his mind! I guess from an Australian viewpoint on national foods, Smuckers Goober Grape Jelly goes pretty close to an unusual tasting spread for us Aussies. The thought of peanut butter and jam combined into a jar would send the bravest running. In all seriousness, the massive crowd of 61,000 sent a clear message to all involved that Sydney WANTS a regular American football fixture and it has to occur yearly. The college football season opening week is a perfect time in terms of allowing planning to fit with conference scheduling. We are hoping this isnt like the MLB experience where a great event was brought to the Sydney Cricket Ground a couple of years ago for the LA Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, but there was no return games. This footballing event HAS to happen again.
It was a great game
Sure Cal was the best team on the day, but it was an entertaining game all things considered. We got to see a very talented quarterback in Davis Webb who is tipped by many football pundits to be an NFL QB someday. He definitely showed the Sydney crowd that he can play. Some of his passing was slick especially when he connected with senior wide receiver Chad Hansen. Hansen showed he was learning all about the local culture, when on his two touchdown celebrations, he gestured like an Australian Rules Football league goal umpire. We were told both teams watched a lot of AFL on their hotel TV’s and were amazed at the skills on show. We feel Khalfani Muhammad was the game’s MVP. He was stunning in terms of pace and the ability to gain impressive yards on kick off returns was simply incredible. He wasn’t infallible though, in the last quarter, Davis Webb found him wide open, yet Khalfani dropped an absolute soda of a touchdown much to Coach Dyke’s chagrin.Hawaii’s Ikaika Woolsey showed he will help this team improve. Despite a nervous start, he quickly settled and he didnt give up. He made some great passes and he wasnt sacked. In previous years the Warriors would have collapsed, to this team’s credit they fought out the game till the very end. Diocemy Saint Juste also deserves a special mention. He was impressive at running back and will be a player to watch this season for the ‘Bows. Australians love the NFL and thousands watch the college football season on Pay TV and mobile devices. It was absolute heaven to just see a chain gang holding the ‘Dial A Down” sign and the announcer naming the play and players involved. The rhythm of the game, it was pure gridiron bliss.
Catching up with old friends
In 2012 we were fortunate enough to observe the Hawaii Warriors play the Fresno State Bulldogs in Fresno California. On that day two time Hawaii Warrior MVP Scott Harding and Alex Dunnachie were donning the famous Rainbow Warrior’s colors. We also had the good fortune to see Derek Carr the then quarterback with the Fresno State Bulldogs in action. Carr would be later drafted by the Oakland Raiders and has been impressive as the starting QB. When in Fresno we were ably assisted by the Warriors Director of Media Relations, Derek Inouchi. We saw Derek at the stadium on Saturday and was great to touch base again. When we last saw Scott Harding, we presented him & Alex with GWS Giants jerseys. Derek told us that the Hawaii Warriors still had a ‘small” connection with the GWS team in that they were able to gain access to the weights facilities at GWS headquarters at Tom Wills Oval during the lead-up to Saturday’s big game.
The Warriors look a much improved side when I last saw them play in 2012 in Fresno California. On that day Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr had a big game as his team crushed Hawaii 45-10. Full credit to the Warriors as they kept competing and will surprise a few teams this year if they play like they did on the weekend.
It was cool to catch up again with KKEA ESPN 1420 Hawaii’s play-by play caller Bobby Curran out at the Olympic Stadium. Like Derek Inouchi, I met Bobby at Fresno State in 2012. Suited up in his usual Hawaiian shirt, Bobby told us he was loving the Australian experience. Curran was a massive fan of Scott Harding and we would always enjoy his calls of a Warriors game which could be heard on a Sunday afternoon in Sydney. We told Bobby about the Homebush surface which can get slippery at the best of times when the shadows start to descend on the field. On a few plays it was clearly noticeable that players from both sides did lose their footing. Regardless of the sport the ball can become tricky to hold as well. Credit to the Cal Bears who managed to cover ball security well. Sadly the Warriors turned the ball over a couple of times. Bobby Curran told me he lamented the disciplining of three key Warriors prior to Saturday’s game. One wondered how much of an effect it had on the ‘Bows overall effort. Kudos to coach Nick Rolovich for setting team standards immediately.
All roads led to Homebush on Saturday morning as 61,000 made their way to a college football game in Sydney. Hundreds packed Redfern station to catch the Olympic Park train, surely one of the best solutions to the nightmare traffic jams that choke the town’s roads. With an express run, via Stathfield you were at the venue in minutes. One cannot emphasize enough how awesome the train option is. Fans on the train were in festival mode, with many dressed in NFL and college football colors. From memory we spotted NFL jerseys of the following teams : Chicago, New Orleans, Denver, New England, San Francisco, Green Bay. We spotted plenty of Cal Bears kits along with Hawaii but spotted Alabama, Wisconsin, LSU and Texas jerseys as well. The Sydney Morning Herald tried to smother the vibe of the game with stories of long beer and food queues, but they proved a minor irritant as many on the train back home enthused about just how good an experience it really was. We never got to try the monster long hot dogs that were for sale complete with a “suitcase” style carry box, but they sure looked a challenge. We were lucky enough to be in Sydney for the 2000 Olympic Games and this event had a little of the same vibe. Throw in the glorious weather and it made for a fantastic day.
We proudly stood during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner
Colin Kaepernick just what is he thinking?. OK so there is no law saying you should stand during a national anthem, but fair dinkum the guy is an absolute dork and a dope. Lack of opportunity for African Americans? I’m sorry Mr Kaepernick but the last time I checked the list of past and serving U.S. Presidents, the name Barack Obama came up and I think he’s still President of the United States of America under my reckoning. Then when I last looked at the Pittsburgh Steelers football team list I’m sure I read that Mike Tomlin was head coach. Oh and I almost forgot, wasn’t there a guy by the name of Mike Singletary who used to be head coach of one, San Francsico 49ers football team a few years ago?? And didn’t a woman by the name of Serena Williams just win another Wimbledon Grand Slam title? I’m not doubting the concerns Mr Kaepernick has for people of any race or persuasion or whatever that has a bad time in life, but is he serious?. There are many fine young men who could not stand to anything after they reached many beaches in the Pacific to fight for their countries freedoms and culture. They were either killed or seriously wounded when they put their lives on the line for present and future generations. Take for example the thousands of young Americans who died alongside hundreds of young Aussies to protect their freedoms during World War II. When the Star Spangled Banner was sung so brilliantly at Homebush on Saturday before the game, I thought of the 1500+ young Americans who died at Tarawa in November 1943, a place I flew near when heading to the USA a few weeks ago. I thought if they could see today, see the magnificent crowd, full of happy young people, watching players by the name of Khalfani Muhammad, Devate Wilson, Davis Webb, Steven Lakalaka and Diocemy Saint Juste, diverse names, all given the fortunate and God given opportunity to play college football and receive a first class education. The young men of Tarawa would have surely thought their sacrifice was worth it. Yet the cashed up, spoilt Kaepernick’s of this world will tell you otherwise. My advice is stick to football Mr Kaepernick if you are able, because the past couple of years have been pretty ordinary, just like your stance or lack thereof.