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Every college football fan argues about their school having the best, most unique game-day experience. However, Cal may just take the top prize. They already had Tightwad Hill. Now there's Tree City. The more-than 72,000 fans attending the Tennessee-California season-opening football game was greeted by a typical Berkeley event about a dozen residents of the city literally camped in the trees by the stadium. Protesters set up makeshift tree houses and hammocks in the branches to protest the University's plan to remove a 200-year old oak grove in order to renovate the stadium. "They've been there for months," said one unamused Cal official. For the visiting Volunteer fans, it was one more part of a memorable trip to Memorial Stadium. Once inside the stadium, Cal played unbelievable in a 45-31 win over Tennessee.
Unlike last year's season-opener a 35-18 Cal loss in Knoxville the Bears had no jitters. Cal attacked the Volunteers from the opening whistle and struck with a sack/fumble recovery combo for a 7-0 lead just 1:51 into the game. Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said the two biggest differences from a year ago were the team's maturity and chemistry.
"There wasn't anything different strategically," Tedford said. "There's no question the experience of our quarterback makes a huge difference." The Bears scored on defense, offense and special teams. DeSean Jackson scored on a meandering 77-yard punt return to make it 21-14, forcing Tennessee to punt away from him the rest of the night.
The teams went back and forth until Cal got its biggest lead at 38-21 about 90 seconds into the third. The Bears gave one of their biggest defensive displays with under 10 minutes left in the third, holding the Volunteers at fourth and goal from the one as quarterback Eric Ainge 19-for-21 passing at the time threw two straight incompletions.
"It was huge. We really played physical down there," Tedford said. In a pretty good quarterback duel, Ainge finished a phenomenal 32-47 with 271 yards with no picks and three touchdowns, the final one bringing the Volunteers back to within a touchdown with 14:17 left in the game. However, Ainge was only 3-for-11 in the last quarter. Nate Longshore went 19-28 with 241 yards and a pair of touchdown tosses. Running back Justin Forsett had 26 carries for 163 yards with a touchdown, with 123 yards after the half. In all, Cal's balanced offense had 230 yards on the ground. "We have very good team speed," Tedford said. "It's nice to have all those playmakers. When that can happen, we're pretty hard to hone in on one guy."