Cameron Ward threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns as Washington State beat California 28-9 on Saturday, despite Ward being intercepted twice in the end zone.
Renard Bell caught eight passes for 115 yards and a touchdown for Washington State (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12), which played four of its first five games at home.
The Cougars were coming off a heart-breaking loss to Oregon last weekend.
"I’m proud of this team and how it responded," WSU coach Jake Dickert said. "This was the prettiest, ugly, gutty win we knew we needed to have.
"To come back the next week ... just shows the type of team we can be."
Jack Plummer completed 23 of 33 passes for 273 yards for California (3-2, 1-1), which was coming off a big win over Arizona.
Both teams scored over 40 points last weekend, but points were scarce for most of this game.
After a scoreless first quarter, Washington State got a 34-yard punt return by Robert Ferrel, coupled with a personal foul on the Bears, to start a drive on the Cal 20-yard line. Jaylen Jenkins ran the ball in from the 2 for a 7-0 lead.
Cal drove to the WSU 24, but had to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Dario Longhetto to pull within 7-3.
On WSU’s next drive, Ward was intercepted in the end zone by Cal safety Daniel Scott. The Golden Bears advanced to midfield, but Plummer was sacked on consecutive plays and they had to punt.
Washington State kept the 7-3 lead at halftime in a defensive battle, with each team barely topping 100 yards of offense.
Washington State had the first drive of the second half, and Ward quickly connected with Bell on a 47-yard completion to the Cal 17. Ferrel caught a 17-yard touchdown pass barely a minute into the half for a 14-3 lead.
Cal went three-and-out, and Washington State advanced to the Bears’ 21-yard line. But a scrambling Ward was intercepted in the end zone again, this time by Craig Woodson, to kill the drive.
Dickert said Ward kept his composure despite the interceptions.
Ward was able "to gut through it and come back and make some big-time throws," Dickert said. "A quarterback needs a short memory."
Jaydn Ott scored on a 2-yard run for California early in the fourth quarter, a touchdown set up by receptions of 30 and 49 yards by Jeremiah Hunter. The 2-point conversion pass failed and Washington State led 14-9.
Ward threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Bell four plays later to lift the Cougars to a 21-9 lead with 12 minutes left in the game.
"You want to get him the ball," Dickert said of Bell.
Ward added another touchdown pass to tight end Billy Riviere with six minutes left.
Cal coach Justin Wilcox said his team could not get to Ward.
"We had three or four chances for some negative plays on them, but we just couldn’t get him (Ward) on the ground," Wilcox said.
"We had a couple of big plays in the air, and that was nice to see, but we gotta score more than that, everybody knows that," Wilcox said.
"We got nothing going in the run game. Pass protection wasn’t where it needed to be. We’re all gonna share in that, but we didn’t expect to be as poor as we were in those areas today, especially coming off of last week," Wilcox said.
TRIBUTE TO 1997 TEAM
The 1997 Washington State team that broke a 61-year drought by winning the conference championship and going to the Rose Bowl was honored during Saturday’s game. Dickert said that team shows what is possible at Washington State and had particular praise for former coach Mike Price, who led the Cougars to the Rose Bowl twice. "There should be a statue of coach Price somewhere," Dickert said.
Ott, who ran for 274 yards and three touchdowns last week against Arizona, was held to 69 yards on Saturday. "We knew we had to corral him coming in," Dickert said. "He earned every yard he got."
Washington State: The Cougars defense seems to have recovered from a collapse that allowed Oregon to score three quick touchdowns in the closing minutes of the Ducks’ 44-41 win last week.
California: The Golden Bears took a step back from their 49-31 win over Arizona last weekend.
Washington State: The Cougars play at No. 6 Southern California next Saturday in their toughest challenge of the season.
California: The Bears have a bye next weekend, before playing at Colorado on Oct. 15.