By Rob Calonge
Doing this job can be pretty humbling at times, especially when you make predictions that in hindsight look pretty half-baked. It was in this space that the following was predicted: "If Best does what he normally does, Miami will be blown out by the half." It stings a little just reading now. Hours later, it's still hard to imagine that the Bears nearly suffered their second bowl defeat during the Tedford Era. Luckily for Bear Backers, they didn't.
The Bears struggled on offense and they weren't able to keep the momentum from swinging Miami's way in a hard-fought battle in which Cal came out on top 24-17. The Bears jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter due in large part by a 74-yard pass by Nate Longshore to Verran Tucker to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Jahvid Best. The next touchdown was a 42-yard highlight reel scamper that put the Bears in full control.
There were a lot of opportunities left behind, but it was good to get the W...It felt good to win another bowl game, for the program and the team. Miami's a great team...
- Longshore about the win
That control didn't last very long. Miami was able to get a 41-yard pass at the end of the first quarter from freshman Jacory Harris to Leonard Hankerson that quickly shifted the momentum of the game towards the Hurricanes. Cal's defense was outstanding, but the lack of a Cal offensive drive wore them down until Miami tied the game at 14 midway through the third quarter.
Before the game that was what we wanted to do, jump out to a big lead. We thought they might quit, but they didn't. Good job on them. But we just kept fighting and got it done in the end.
- Best on Cal's quick start
Cal would go back on top 17-14 before the third quarter ended, but the Hurricanes answered back with a field goal of their own to tie the game at 17 with 9:13 left to play. The Bears drove down the field on the following drive, but stalled at Miami's 17-yard line, where freshman kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missed the 34-yarder with 4:24 left in the game. It was at that point in the game, the mood at AT&T Park was very somber for the fans in blue and gold. Miami had been driving at will, the Cal defense had been on the field what seemed like most of the night, and the incredible Hurricane freshman was ready to do what he had done nearly his entire life, (I have to check this out, but it was mentioned that he'd won 39 straight games that he'd started going back to high school - incredible).
I know I have to go out there and win the football game. Injured or not I have to make the play. If coach calls for the deep ball, I have to make the deep ball. I threw it as far as I could and then [WR Leonard] Hankerson made a play for me. It's just something that coach knows we've been working on and I just need to take what the defense is going to give me. I kind of slipped up a little bit on the interception but other than that I just took what the defense gave me.
- Harris on his play in the game
After an incomplete pass and a two yard rush, Harris dropped back to pass. Instead of finding another open receiver, he found Cal's captain 'bear'-ing down on him. The senior Zack Follett made the play of the game when sacking Harris and forcing a fumble that was recovered by Cameron Jordan at the Miami nine-yard line. Jordan, scooped up the ball running in stride and advanced it to the Miami two with 3:28 remaining.
Two plays later, Longshore faked the hand-off to Best, rolled to his right, and under pressure zinged the winning touchdown pass over Cameron Morrah and into the waiting hands of backup tight end, Anthony Miller. It was Miller's first career catch. Miami got the ball back at their own 32-yard line, with 2:41 left, but they were only able to advance to their own 49 as the clock expired. The star of the show on offense was Best. He received Emerald Bowl MVP honors after setting a bowl record with 186 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. The second touchdown of the day tied him for first all-time for most rushing touchdowns in a season with J.J. Arrington with 15. He also put himself second behind Arrington for most rushing yards in a season with 1,580 yards gained for the year. It's good that Best had such a good day. The passing game was nearly non-existent as Longshore struggled to find rhythm with his receivers and suffered a chorus of boos by the end of the second quarter that would continue until the end of the game.
I didn't play like I wanted, I was too excited.
- Longshore on his play
(*Editorial aside - for the fans that were booing Longshore, it was probably the most embarrassing thing you could have done for the program. Not only were you venting your frustration on the wrong person, but top recruits aren't going to want to play in front of so-called fans like that. While Longshore wasn't playing well, the offensive line and his receivers helped to aid his woes. Not only have you booed one of the better 'team' players on the Golden Bears, but you also booed one of the most prolific passers (5th on Cal's all-time list) in Bears history. Great job.)
The fans were great. This was a home game, so we definitely had the advantage.
- Longshore on the fans (classy)
Follett made the most of his final game as a Cal Bear. Not only did he 'show up' on national television, he was on camera so much that they had to give him the Defensive MVP award. Follett had nine tackles (eight solo), four tackles for loss, one fumble forced, one break-up, two sacks, and one quarterback hit. The soon-to-be NFL player was the driving force of a defense that was overused, but did an outstanding job of keeping the Bears in the game.
We couldn't let them come across the country and beat us in our backyard.
- Follett on beating Miami
Jeff Tedford made the call to start the maligned Longshore in his final game at Cal and while that was the big story leading up to the game, he was quick to point out that this game was won on defense.
Our defense played very well, especially in forcing turnovers. It was a total team effort. We have a lot of respect for Miami, but our defense stepped up. Defense played great all night long...Our defense played well. The turnover at the end was obviously the key. Miami has some tremendous athletes, but our defense really stepped it up.
- Tedford on the key to victory and the defense
For the year, Cal finished undefeated at home, and for those of you keeping score, this was also considered one of those games by Tedford and the Bears.
I'm really proud of our seniors. Tonight was like another home game for us and we finished undefeated at home this season. I'm proud of our staff they really worked hard and did a tremendous job.
- Tedford on the season
As a team, that is it for the season, but at least five Bears will be making appearances in postseason games. As always, we'll be following the offseason, recruiting, and all of the players entering the 2009 NFL Draft. Check back over the next few days as we'll still be reporting and analysing the Bears season. For the year, they finished at 9-4. Whether or not Cal finishes the season is a ranked team will be determined on how good the voters think Miami is. If they don't think Miami is very good, Cal will have to wait until the preseason rankings come out. What I took from the game is that the Hurricanes are probably better than we thought, but not good enough to handle Cal as well as they did - in other words, a top-50 team, but not a top-25 team yet. If Cal is to improve next season, their offensive line will have to be much better than it was this season when it comes to the passing game. Same goes for the receivers. Chances are, the Bears will be much improved next season with a load of juniors with game experience and some marquee seniors coming back.