This was the first Cal home game I had ever watched on TV, albeit on tape. Even though I knew the outcome by the time I watched the game, I was *still* nervous because there were so many Maalox moments! I can only imagine what it was like to see it firsthand; my friends told me it was amazing.
Gallery - AP
The first quarter was relatively nondescript, as each team only managed a field goal. After the opening kickoff, Cal marched 54 yards, with the big gains being Boller passes to WR Jonathan Makonnen for 28 and WR LaShaun Ward for 22, and the Bears scored on a 33-yard Mark Jensen field goal. UCLA answered with a 62-yard drive culminating in a Chris Griffiths 42-yard field goal. Early in the drive, Bruin RB Tyler Ebell was stopped for a loss of two on third and 1; unfortunately, tackler Calvin Hosey got caught for mouthing off about it to Ebell, and the 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave UCLA a first down.
The Bears went three and out on their other two possessions of Q1. The Bruins inserted QB Drew Olson on their second series, as starter Cory Paus had suffered a stinger, but the backup from Piedmont could only muster one first down before UCLA had to punt. Nate Fikse's kick was downed at the Cal 5, and after the Bears punted themselves, the Bruins took over with great field position at the Cal 45. Paus returned for that next possession, and his first pass went for 25 yards to WR Jason Harrison at the Cal 20. But then the Cal defense made the first of several big plays on the day; Tom Canada sacked Paus and forced a fumble that Jamaal Cherry recovered at the Cal 24.
The Cal ground attack, which was otherwise quiet, then carried most of the load. Terrell Williams carried twice for 33 yards and Joe Igber four times for 21 yards, taking the Bears to the UCLA 24. (Outside of those six carries, the duo combined for 21 rushes and 42 yards.) On third down, Boller fired a 24-yard TD pass to a wide-open Tom Swoboda to give the Bears a 10-3 lead. That strike broke Pat Barnes' career record for touchdown passes, putting Boller alone in first place with 55.
Neither team scored for the rest of Q2. A series of short passes and a 15-yard personal foul on UCLA took the Bears as far as the UCLA 24, but back-to-back personal foul and holding penalties cost us a combined 25 yards and a sack finished us off. UCLA generated a couple of first downs but were stymied by sacks by Matt Nixon, Tom Sverchek, and Wendell Hunter.
After the halftime break, UCLA's offense perked up. Paus led an 81-yard TD drive after the kickoff, but he didn't see the drive through to completion. On what turned out to be the final pass of his college career, Paus hit WR Craig Bragg with a 28-yard bomb to the Cal 20. Upon releasing the ball, Paus was simultaneously hit high by Tully Banta-Cain and low by Josh Gustaveson, and the hapless Bruin QB's leg was bent in a way that it was not made to be. His ankle broke, and following a delay while Paus was carted off the field, Olson returned at QB. He handed off to Ebell twice, and on the second carry the scatback ran 9 yards for a tying TD.
Cal's third-quarter offense can be described quickly: three possessions, three three-and-outs, and three punts. In the meantime, UCLA's offense threatened but couldn't come up with any points. The Bruins broached midfield twice but ended up punting both times, the first after an Olson fumbled snap lost 9 yards and cratered the drive. On the next series, UCLA momentarily looked as if it had taken the lead when Olson hit TE Mike Seidman with a 49-yard bomb that would have been a touchdown; however, the Bruins were flagged for a huge holding penalty, and they couldn't recover from the resulting second-and-19 hole. On that drive, Olson separated his shoulder, but it wasn't clear when it happened.
The third quarter ended the 45-minute prelude to a wild and crazy fourth quarter that featured two UCLA blocks of Fredrickson's punts, a Cal block of a Griffiths field-goal attempt, two huge UCLA turnovers, two Cal fumbles that could have changed the outcome, and a 38-yard loss on a lateral that worked beautifully for the team that lost the yards. And all this happened in a decisive period in which each team officially recorded total offense of negative 3 yards. It was unbelievable!
The madness was foreshadowed on the first play of Q4 when Cal's punt was almost blocked. Third-string QB John Sciarra, a redshirt freshman, took over for the injured Olson. Welcome to college football, John - on his second snap from scrimmage, he was savagely sacked by Banta-Cain and fumbled the ball away to Lorenzo Alexander at the UCLA 25. Boller then took the Bears to the 2 after an 8-yard pass to Swoboda and a 10-yard swing pass to Igber. On first and goal, disaster nearly struck, as Boller almost did a Pat Barnes and fumbled the snap. Luckily, Boller recovered at the 4, and on the very next play, Igber scooted into the end zone for the go-ahead TD. Jensen's extra point made the score 17-10.
Sciarra's first collegiate pass was an incompletion at the feet of a wide-open Tab Perry. His second was a 9-yard pass to WR Bragg on third and 11, necessitating a punt.
The Bears' offensive struggles resumed as we went three and out. LB Marcus Reese blocked Tyler Fredrickson's ensuing punt, and the Bruins took over at the Cal 3. Before running a play, UCLA was flagged for a false start, pushing the powder blues back to the Cal 8. Sciarra tried a lob pass to WR Marcedes Lewis that fell incomplete; however, the Bears were called for pass interference, giving the Bruins another first and goal at the Cal 2. On first down, Hosey made a tremendous play, nailing Ebell in the backfield for a 5-yard loss. On second down, the Bruins tried a weird-looking double option that eventually went to Ebell, and the unimpressed Bears stopped him at the 4. On third down, Perry found himself seriously alone in the end zone, but Sciarra's bullet pass sailed right through his hands. With plenty of time remaining, Toledo elected to go for the seemingly sure three points. But Jamaal Cherry blocked Griffiths' 21-yard attempt and the Cal lead remained at 7. The Cal defense had held!
Cal soon went three and out again. Ebell was tackled almost immediately after catching Fredrickson's punt - too quickly, according to the officials, who nailed the Bears with a 15-yard personal foul. On the slow-motion replay, the TV announcers pointed out that the offender, Mike McGrath, wasn't even in the picture when Ebell caught the ball, and in fact he had timed the hit perfectly. Given a gift, UCLA had great field position at the 45. But it didn't last long. On third down, Sciarra's pass was tipped and Bethea picked it off, returning the ball to the UCLA 38. The Bears were called for a block below the waist on the return, so instead Cal took over at its own 39.
Cal managed only its third first down of the second half before disaster almost struck: Boller stumbled on the dropback, Igber didn't secure the handoff well, and the diminutive RB fumbled without being touched by a defender. Igber was able to pounce on the ball, though, averting a calamity if only for the moment. The Bears were soon forced to punt, and with Fredrickson's timing thrown off by a high snap, UCLA's Matt Ware blocked the kick. Once again, the Bruins had a golden opportunity at the Cal 20, and stressed-out Bear fans were probably in the process of swearing off Cal football. On second down, Sciarra tried to hit TE Seidman in the end zone. CB Donnie McCleskey was just in front of Seidman, and they both jumped simultaneously. The ball went right through McCleskey's hands, and pretty much hit Seidman right in the numbers, but Seidman either threw off his balance with the leap, or was distracted by McCleskey, or both, and the ball fell harmlessly to the ground. After an incompletion, on fourth down, Sciarra dropped back to pass, was flushed out of the pocket by Nixon, and got absolutely flattened by Tom Canada. The ball squirted loose and UCLA recovered at the 38, but the ball went to Cal on downs. UCLA had finally gasped its last breath, and Cal would escape with a harrowing victory.
Or would they?
There was still 1:35 remaining, and UCLA had one timeout left. Cal couldn't quite run out the clock, with the time originally running down to 2 seconds before the officials decided to add 3 more. So the Bears faced fourth down from the 38 with 5 seconds remaining. What to do? Fredrickson had already had two kicks blocked, so punting was not an attractive option. We could've had Boller or Igber run around to kill time, but anyone who remembers that 49ers/Bengals game from the late 80s knows that would be a risky strategy. (The Bengals tried to waste the remaining time in the backfield but the 49ers defense got there too quickly, leaving 2 seconds on the clock and just enough time for Montana to hit Rice with the game-winning TD on the last play of the game. Cincy coach Sam Wyche got roasted for that call and if my memory is correct, he was fired not long thereafter.) Cal called a timeout to figure out what to do, and the result was a doozy. After taking the snap, Boller took a few steps backward, whirled around, and lofted a pass/lateral to Makonnen, who was standing at the goal line, ostensibly as a safety. Makonnen caught the ball, danced around a bit, and ran out the back of the end zone as time expired. All sorts of things could have gone wrong - Boller could've been hit before he could release the ball, Makonnen could've dropped the ball and had it get away from him (and as a lateral, it would've been a live ball/free-for-all), or the pass could've sailed out of the end zone too quickly, possibly necessitating a Cal free kick. But the Bears had practiced the play and executed it beautifully to close out the 17-12 upset.
The defense clearly won this game, stifling UCLA's offense to the tune of 226 total yards, 10 points, and a horrible 1-for-4 on red-zone opportunities. The defense also rolled up a season-high 7 sacks for 76 yards, so the Bruins' net rushing total was a paltry 29 despite Ebell's 102 yards. Once again, turnovers made all the difference, as the Bears scored two touchdowns from three Bruin gifts while Cal didn't give away the ball once. The game reminded me of several wins from 1998 in which the Cal offense basically avoided major screw-ups and pounced on the short-field opportunities afforded by the defense. On eight of our thirteen possessions (excluding the series at the ends of each half), we went three and out. When was the last time the Bears won a game with 173 yards of total offense? OK, that number was skewed somewhat by the game-ending 38-yard loss, but it still would have only been 211.
After the final gun, delirious Cal fans poured onto the field and mobbed the players. Before watching the game on tape, I had heard that the fans stormed the field and was somewhat surprised since we beat UCLA for the third time in four years, and the Bruins were unranked at that. When I saw how stressful the game was, though, it made more sense. A friend and I have discussed this trend, which seems to be happening with increasing regularity; his view is that we rush the field/court too often and that celebration is no longer reserved for special victories. I tend to agree with that observation, but mostly in basketball, where we crashed the court after beating a pedestrian Georgetown team (against whom we were favored) in the second round of the NIT and at the end of blowouts over UCLA when the outcome had long since been decided. In football, the "act-like-you've-been-there-before" mentality isn't applicable simply because we haven't won very many games. Whatever the case, it makes the fans happy, and it means we won, so I won't complain!
With the victory, Boller finished his career with a 3-0 record against his dream school, which instead opted to sign the immortal J.P. Losman. Luckily for Boller, he missed last year's game at the Rose Bowl with an injury, since Joe Montana probably couldn't have led the 2001 Cal squad to a victory against the then-#4 team in the country. The Bears have now beaten the Bruins 8 out of the last 13, including a 6-4 edge in the 90s and a 2-1 lead starting in 2000. This streak follows 39 years of Bear misery during which UCLA held a ridiculous 35-4 advantage, including 18 wins in a row from 1972-1989. Knowing the history, I cherish every Cal win over UCLA, which on paper should have as much or more talent every year.
Finally, my lasting memory of Chancellor Tien occurred after the 1993 Big Game. Cal had just beaten Stanford for the first time in seven years, and we did storm the field and tear up the turf that I still have today. In the melee, we almost got bowled over by offensive linemen Todd Steussie and Eric Mahlum, who were carrying the Axe, but that's another story. Anyway, we stuck around long after the game ended, and when we finally left the stadium, we saw Tien across the street and yelled, "Hey Chancellor Tien, Go Bears!" He turned, smiled broadly, and raised his arm in triumph… and in his hand was a humungous piece of the Stanford Stadium grass. Rest in peace, Chancellor, and may we win one for you this year.