SAN DIEGO — To Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns, the difference between finishing 8-5 and 7-6 is immense.
David Ash added his name to the list of quarterbacks who’ve caught a touchdown pass in the Holiday Bowl and also threw for a score to lead Texas to a 21-10 victory over California on Wednesday night.
Ash caught a 4-yard pass from wide receiver Jaxon Shipley in the second quarter to join BYU’s Steve Young, Texas A&M’s Bucky Richardson and Oregon’s Harrington as quarterbacks who’ve caught touchdown passes in the Holiday Bowl.
The Longhorns (8-5) were even more impressive on defense, getting five takeaways and sacking Cal’s Zach Maynard six times, both season highs.
‘‘We’re not jumping up and down. We’re not throwing Gatorade, but the guys can walk out of here with their heads up,’’ Brown said. ‘‘But this was a pivotal game for us in my estimation to let these seniors go out and show that they’ve got us heading back up the hill, where we want to be.’’
Texas lost three of its final four regular-season games.
The Longhorns had the ball first-and-goal when Ash handed off to running back Malcolm Brown, who then handed off to Shipley as if the Longhorns were going to run a reverse. Ash slipped into the end zone and caught Shipley’s pass to give Texas a 7-3 lead. Shipley has thrown three touchdown passes this season, all while lining up at wide receiver.
Brown joked Tuesday how much it still bugged him that Harrington caught a TD pass in the Ducks’ 35-30 victory over Texas in the 2000 Holiday Bowl. The Oregon offensive coordinator then was Jeff Tedford, who has been Cal’s coach since 2002. Harrington now works for the Longhorn Network.
Brown credited the play to co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who previously coached and played at Boise State.
‘‘Bryan Harsin grew up in that Boise system and that’s the stuff Jeff did with Oregon back in the early 2000s,’’ Brown said. ‘‘And it’s one of the reasons why I hired Bryan. He believes in running the football, he believes in being physical, but he’s got toys in the pocket that he’s going to take advantage of things when he can.
‘‘If you’re not moving the ball, he’s got some imagination in the offense to make a play.’’
That play helped salvage a little bit of the Holiday Bowl’s reputation for high-scoring, wide-open games.
‘‘We knew they were going to throw something like that out there,’’ Cal defensive end Trevor Guyton said. ‘‘It was only a matter of time before they did it. They got us. No excuses.’’
Ash had another impressive play in the third quarter when he threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin, who made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in full stride. That gave the Longhorns a 14-10 lead.
The Golden Bears (7-6) are winless in five games against the Longhorns dating to 1959.
Texas put it away on Cody Johnson’s 4-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, which was set up when Maynard was sacked and fumbled, which was recovered by Chris Whaley at the Cal 44. Goodwin ran for 37 yards and Johnson had a 3-yard gain before his touchdown run.
Cal briefly took the lead at 10-7 on Isi Sofele’s 6-yard run that capped the opening drive of the second half.
Ash’s long TD pass to Goodwin came four plays into the Texas’ next drive.
‘‘We had our chances and gave the ball away,’’ Tedford said.
Cal fumbled six times, losing four. The other turnover was an interception by Quandre Diggs, the younger brother of former Texas star cornerback and current San Diego Chargers starter Quentin Jammer.
‘‘They did a good job of stripping it. They got it out today,’’ Tedford said. ‘‘They got their hands on the ball, their hats on the ball and stripped it. There’s really no explanation for something we’ve worked on.’’
Maynard was under pressure the whole game.
‘‘We kept getting caught in second-and-long, third-and-long,’’ the quarterback said. ‘‘It’s hard to build a decent pass game and run game. ... It’s hard to overcome those turnovers. It’s hard to build momentum.’’