The Cactus Bowl recently obtained Cheez-It as the sponsor for the next couple of years – and the snack company couldn’t have been happier with the outcome. There’s an old saying, there’s no such thing as bad press…
This year’s matchup featured under-achieving teams in TCU and Cal. Coming into the 2018 season, TCU was ranked 16 and expected to compete with heavy favorite Oklahoma for the B12 title, while Cal was expected to finish in the middle of the PAC12 with an 8-4 record.
TCU started the season 2-0 against a couple of cupcakes but suffered five losses in the next six games to pretty much destroy their season. They bounced back to finish strong with wins against two eventual bowl teams, Baylor and Oklahoma State, the last two weeks of the season. The season-ending OK State win was enough to secure a 6-6 record and a bowl invite.
Cal started the year out strong with three straight wins against North Carolina, BYU and Idaho State. But when PAC12 play opened up, the Bears stumbled – losing three straight before a win over Oregon State, then their signature win of the year – beating Washington 12-10. After adding late-season wins over USC and Colorado, they salvaged the year and finished the regular season at 7-5.
Chase Field has been the home of the Cactus Bowl for the past few years while Sun Devil Stadium undergoes renovations during the off-season. At first, I was not a fan, but I’m slowly starting to enjoy the setup. Even though we have fantastic year-round weather, December nights can get pretty chilly – especially if you’re sitting outside all night. And yes, we are spoiled, but I’d much rather sit in comfort when watching two barely bowl-eligible teams battle it out.
We grabbed dinner at one of our favorite pizza places, La Piazza PHX and were lucky enough to score street parking that would serve for both dinner and the game.
As we entered the stadium, we took our time to enjoy some of the sites. The Rotunda is covered with paintings of our incredibly scenic state. We’ve passed under these countless times, but never really took the time to check them out.
Looking outside, one of the newer condo high-rises in Phoenix signals that the downtown area is trying to become a more livable area. Units here range from the low $200s to almost $800k for the upper penthouses.
Another trend that I’m thrilled to see continue is the expansion of local brands being made available at concessions. The super-regional coffee house, Dutch Bros, recently opened at Chase Field with the staff and menu mimicking normal stores.
The entrance for the Cactus Bowl is always pretty cool. They parachute in several “guys”, each holding a different flag. One for each team, the State of Arizona and the US Flag along with the game ball. It’s pretty impressive considering the relatively small opening in the roof.
After the paratroopers make their way in, they drape the flag over the field while the National Anthem plays.
Before long, the teams enter with fireworks in the team colors exploding above the stadium.
Putting a rectangle inside a diamond is never easy, but the setup inside the stadium seems to work well. From our upper deck, first row seats on the 20-yard line, we’re not far from the field. And the HD Screen is in perfect view for us to catch replays – or even live action if you care.
The crowd was pretty even with a mix of TCU, Cal and non-partisan locals like us. And even with an announced attendance of just over 33,000 people, it didn’t feel empty due to the setup.
The game itself was… well, let’s just say it was INTeresting. The teams combined for a total of nine – yes, nine – interceptions – with six coming in the first half alone. It was so bad, at one point, TCU’s QB, Grayson Muehlstein, had a negative QB rating. He finished an abysmal 7 for 20 with a total of 27 yards – and 4 INTS for a whopping 6.34 QBR. Oh, and he was the winning QB. His passes were so bad that even two of his INTs were illegal forward passes.
How inept was TCU’s passing game? Muehlstein’s favorite receiver caught only 3 passes. Problem is, that was Jaylin Hawkins and he plays for Cal. Yep, that’s right. Hawkins had three picks on the night when no other TCU receiver caught more than 2 passes.
Pop Quiz – What is the lowest amount of passing yards by a winning team?
Cal was able to convert one of those early INTs into a TD in the first quarter to take the early lead 7-0.
Little did we know what lies ahead – and that we’d maintain this score until the close of the 3rd quarter.
One of the funnier things I’ve seen during a game was when one of Cal’s offensive linemen, Jake Curhan, tried to tackle a defender after one of the numerous interceptions. It was an all-out effort, but also one that is worthy of an Oscar.
As bad as it was, TCU had a chance to win it as time expired. They trotted out their kicker, Cole Bunce, for a 44-yard FG attempt. Cal called a TO to ice the kicker. At that point, TCU’s coach, Gary Patterson calls the kicker out of the game and replaces him with another kicker, Jonathan Song. Bunce goes ballistic on the sideline, but before the TO is over, Patterson changes his mind again and pulls Song for Bunce again. I guess Patterson was icing his own kicker. And it worked. Bunce missed wide left and the bizarre night continues. Disclaimer – I didn’t realize this happened at the time, but it’s only fitting something like this would happen on this night.
The hilarity continued in OT with Cal having the first possession. On the first series, on 3rd and 7, backup QB Chase Forrest throws his second pick of the night and TCU nearly runs it back for a TD and the game-winning score. It took an amazing effort by the same Jake Curhan to run him out at the Cal 13. The only dive he did this time was to tackle the guy.
It didn’t matter though, the return would have been nullified anyway because the craziness continued with sideline interference being called on TCU on the play. Seems that their Sports Information Director ran out into the field and collided with a ref who was chasing the play. smh.
Even with the 15-yard penalty to open their OT drive now at the 40, TCU was able to take it to the Cal 10 before calling on Song this time to close out the game with a 10-7 victory.
TCU pulled out the victory, but #CheezItBowl and #CheezINTbowl were trending on Twitter, with the official @CheezItBowl account getting ridiculously creative in the wake of the Twitterverse roasting the game and the teams.
I’m still not sure if it was a great game or a terrible game, but one thing’s for sure. It was a memorable game.
Stop wondering. Start wandering!