No. 6 Bears hang on, 31-24, as No. 11 Ducks come within inches of scoring with time winding down on a play that requires a review.
By Chris Dufresne
EUGENE, Ore. -- The game changed so DeSean Jackson-fast. One minute an Oregon receiver was stretching for the score-tying touchdown and a few minutes later California players were being asked about winning the national championship. There was a replay involved -- at Autzen Stadium, conducted by Pacific 10 Conference officials -- but this time they didn't pull an Oklahoma. And, in the moment the replay verdict was upheld Saturday, the entire college football landscape got hedge clipped. No. 6 California held on to outlast No. 11 Oregon, 31-24, and the jubilant Bears, after celebrating on foreign turf, made a bee-line back to Berkeley to consider their place in this year's conversation after the biggest road win of Coach Jeff Tedford's era. We're talking about inches possibly swaying a national title race one way or another. Oregon had first and goal at the Cal five with 22 seconds left. Receiver Cameron Colvin accepted a pass in the left flat and tried to sneak the ball inside the left pylon when he was hit by defensive back Marcus Ezeff.
Ezeff said he was trying to take Colvin's "head off" on the play, but actually thought he had surrendered the potential score-tying touchdown. Actually, on the tackle, the ball popped loose from Colvin and through the end zone. Side judge Bernard Samuels signaled touchback. Pending further review and plenty of anxious moments. "I was just sitting over there, kind of having a heart attack," Ezeff said of his demeanor during the replay delay. Final verdict ended a great game between mirror-like programs. Cal improved to 5-0 while Oregon fell, if you can call it that, to 4-1. The Heisman Trophy campaign of Cal receiver Jackson, who finished with 11 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns, was resurrected while Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon's hopes took a dent when two of his passes were intercepted in the final 4 minutes 30 seconds. Before that, he hadn't had a pass intercepted this season. Dixon still finished with 306 yards passing and nearly redeemed himself on the Ducks' last-minute drive, conducted without any timeouts. But it all ended when touchdown turned into touchback. "He was trying to make a play," Dixon said of Colvin's end-zone stretch. "I don't judge him for nothing."
Colvin said he thought he'd crossed the goal and "that's the way it goes." Cal earned a victory in one of the most ear-throbbing venues in the country and escaped Autzen without committing a turnover while getting three from Oregon. Cal had lost seven straight games at Autzen dating back 20 years. This time, though, the Bears rallied for 28 second-half points after trailing, 10-3, at the half. The score was 24-24 with 4:23 left when linebacker Anthony Felderintercepted a Dixon pass at the Oregon 21. Three plays later, Justin Forsett scored on a one-yard run and Cal made the lead stand. Jackson, who had only three catches the previous week against Arizona, came up big, his speed affecting Oregon's entire game plan. "All year I've been waiting for the opportunity to make plays for my teammates," Jackson said. It was the kind of road win Cal needed to spruce up its national resume. Maybe these Bears have been hardened by lessons learned last year at Tennessee, and Arizona and USC, and are now ready to make a serious run to the top. "It's so early," Tedford said, "this is one game. I don't know about all that national stuff."
Yet, after a day in which four top-10 schools lost, Cal figures up to be No. 3 in today's polls. And the last time Cal was ranked No. 3 was Oct. 18, 1952. Remember, this year USC comes to Berkeley, on Nov. 10. Maybe this is the year it all breaks Cal's way -- or doesn't break. Quarterback Nate Longshore hobbled off the field in the fourth quarter because of a right ankle injury. Longshore returned after having his ankle heavily wrapped, but he limped out of Autzen under the gaze of watchful eyes. "We have our fingers crossed," Tedford said. Later, it was revealed that X-rays on Longshore's ankle were negative, which could not have been more positive news for Cal. The Bears have a bye this week before playing host to Oregon State on Oct. 13. Cal has been highly regarded before, only to get tripped up in unlikely places such as Tucson. "It's not over," linebacker Worrell Williams said of the season. "It's just getting started." With all the losing that went on Saturday, Oregon may not even be in for that much of a poll fall. How far do you drop No. 11 after it loses in the final seconds against No. 6? "It's a long, long season," Dixon said. "Anything can happen in college football. You never know."