By Jonathan Okanes
With the last game of the season on the line, Cal's present passed to the future. Fifth-year senior Nate Longshore found freshman tight end Anthony Miller for a 2-yard touchdown pass with 2:41 remaining, lifting the Bears to a 24-17 victory over Miami in the Emerald Bowl. It was the first catch of Miller's career. "It obviously feels good," said Longshore, who ended his topsy-turvy career by completing 10 of 21 passes for 121 yards in front of a sellout crowd of 42,268 at AT&T Park. "It always feels good to win, especially in a bowl game. It feels good to go out on top." The victory gave Coach Jeff Tedford his third nine-victory season in his seven years at Cal. It also was his fourth consecutive bowl victory and gives the Bears (9-4) a good chance to appear in the final national rankings for the fourth time in five years.
"It's not easy to win nine games," Tedford said. "That's a nice accomplishment for this team. "...For these guys to go out with nine wins is something they can really be proud of." Cal tailback Jahvid Best was named offensive player of the game after rushing for an Emerald Bowl-record 186 yards and two touchdowns, giving him momentum for a possible Heisman Trophy campaign next season. Best finished with 1,580 yards, the second-highest single-season total in Cal history. He also tied Justin Forsett and J.J. Arrington for the single-season record with 15 rushing touchdowns.
When asked about the Heisman, Best said: "We are looking for a national championship." While Longshore had the winning touchdown pass, it was another senior, linebacker Zack Follett, who set it up. After Cal's Giorgio Tavecchio missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt that could have snapped a 17-17 tie, the Hurricanes took over at their 20. On third down, Follett got his second sack of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, forcing a fumble that was recovered and returned to the 2 by defensive end Cameron Jordan. Longshore hit Miller two plays later. Follett was named the defensive player of the game with a game-high nine tackles, two sacks, four tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble. "We all know Zack is the sack master," Jordan said. "If you need a big play, Zack is going to come up with it." Miller played primarily on special teams this season and usually got offensive reps only on the goal line. He said his touchdown was just his third offensive rep of the game and he had only a few others all season.
Miller is the third-string tight end, and the two players ahead of him — Cameron Morrah and Tad Smith — are both returning. Another highly regarded freshman, Spencer Ladner, redshirted this season. Longshore said he didn't have any reservations throwing to Miller despite his lack of experience. "Oh, he's good," Longshore said. "I wasn't throwing it to just anybody out there. Anthony Miller is going to be a great player. He has a lot of potential, that's for sure." The winning play was designed to go to Morrah, but he was covered. Miller was in the back of the end zone directly behind Morrah, who reached up to try to catch the pass. "We practice that play probably every day of the year," Longshore said. "It's one of the staples that we have. I saw that yellow flashing across the back of the end zone with nobody on him, so I had to jump on it."
The Bears got off to a hot start, taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on two touchdown runs by Best. His first score was set up by a 74-yard pass from Longshore to wide receiver Verran Tucker. On the Bears' next possession, Best scored on the first play, starting right and cutting back left for a 42-yard score.
The Hurricanes came back with a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that started in the first quarter. They tied it at 14 with another 10-play drive early in the third quarter. Cal had to settle for Tavecchio's 23-yard field goal after a 12-play possession that included Best's 25-yard run on fourth-and-one from the Miami 30. But the Bears lost a touchdown opportunity when Longshore tripped and fell while dropping to pass on third-and-goal at the 1. Miami kicker Matt Bosher tied it at 17 with a 22-yard field goal with 9:13 left, culminating a drive that was prolonged after Cal's Brett Johnson was called for running into the kicker on fourth down.
"These seniors have done a good job, to bounce back from what we went through last year," Follett said. "I take my hat off to all of them."