BERKELEY-The Victory Cannon was muffled. The student section fell silent. Alumni walked out. The rain fell. The season ended.
As Washington tailback Chris Polk celebrated in the arms of his teammates, having finished off a 10-play, 79-yard drive with a one-yard TD run to put the Huskies on top 16-13, California Memorial Stadium fell deathly quiet, save for one section of fans clad in purple, rejoicing in the south stands.
"I sort of went numb for a second," said senior defensive end Cameron Jordan. "I looked at the clock, realized that there was no time left, no time for our offense, not even a throw. I went numb and realized that was the end of my Cal career."
'Numb' was the perfect way to describe the entire team following its season-ending loss to the Huskies. There was hardly any anger. No sense of embarrassment for a 5-7 season, no yelling or table-pounding; just resignation.
"My thoughts on it, my thoughts are not very good," said a muted Jeff Tedford. "We've averaged eight and a half wins every year, we've gone to a bowl every year, so this is a new thing for us. You experience something like this, and it doesn't feel good. I feel bad for the kids, first and foremost, and after that, the people who support us and the University and the alumni, who take pride in this program, because I have a great deal of pride in this program. I have a great deal of love for this program. Obviously, we want to get certain things done, and this year we fell short. There were a lot of good football games and I've said in the past, whether you win eight, nine or 10 games, there's a fine line between 7-5 and 5-7. There's a very fine line there, and obviously this is not acceptable to us as coaches. It's not acceptable to the players and we will dedicate ourselves to work our hardest to bounce back."
Junior free safety Sean Cattouse had four tackles and one pass break-up, and said that there was no sense of embarrassment in the locker room.
"I wouldn't say it's embarrassing," Cattouse said. "The Pac-10 is real competitive. Pretty much any team can beat any other team. It's not embarrassing. There's a lot of disappointment, as players. There was a lot of disappointing play, but I wouldn't say it's embarrassing."
"It's not embarrassing," Jordan said. "It's more disappointing that we didn't do more."
This afternoon marked the first time in Tedford's tenure where the Bears (5-7, 3-6 in the Pac-10) have had a losing season, and the first time that they will not appear in a postseason bowl game.
"We'll recruit, that's first," Tedford said, when asked what he'd do with his newfound extra time not spent planning for a bowl game. "We'll start evaluating, as soon as possible, and I really don't know. It's been a long time. I can't remember the last year that I hadn't taken part in a bowl game. I'm not going to be happy about it; I'll tell you that. I'm not going to be in a very good mood for the next months. But, we need to get back to work right away. It's not vacation time. It's work time."
Another streak broken today is, perhaps, of far greater concern. With a new Memorial Stadium opening its doors in 2012, fan support has been vital, but, on Saturday, Cal failed to draw 50,000 fans for the first time in 44 games, dating back seven seasons. In its final game in the current configuration, Memorial Stadium played host to a rain-drenched paid attendance of 44,615 to see off a group of 16 seniors.
"They've been to a bowl game every year that they've been here, so this is, no doubt, disappointing," Tedford said.
The game was, to say the least, a war of attrition. Neither offense seemed able to get rolling in the early goings, with the Bears taking a 3-0 lead into halftime thanks to a career-long 53-yard field goal by junior placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio as time expired. In his final game at Memorial, Tavecchio added a 47-yarder later in the game to account for nearly half of Cal's scoring.
"I've been really focusing a lot lately on finishing the season off strong," Tavecchio said of his 53-yarder. "I was pretty confident, I was feeling good, I was pretty focused, and my focus was on just the kick, nothing else. It was a great snap, a great hold as always, good protection and I got a little lucky.
"It is very bittersweet. Obviously, I like to make very field goal, and today I felt like I did a good job with my field goals, but there's always that taste in your mouth: we lost. I feel like there's always more you can do. I could have made a tackle on kickoff, but I felt like I left it all out on the field today, as much as a kicker can."
The first half was an exercise in offensive ineptitude for both sides. While on defense, the Bears held an opponent scoreless for the fifth time this season, junior quarterback Brock Mansion went 6-of-12 for 55 yards-22 of those coming on a five-yard hitch route that true freshman Keenan Allen turned into a highlight-reel play. Mansion threw just one pass in the entire first quarter.
"Going in, we felt like we had to be patient with the run, to create some things," Tedford said. "They're a big pressure team, and we wanted to crease some things. We had some success doing it, but what ended up killing us were the penalties."
For the second straight game, the Bears displayed some poor discipline, getting flagged seen times for 74 yards.
"We got down in the red zone and we got penalties that took us back and didn't enable us to score touchdowns," Tedford said. "We had a fumble that put us back, down there, and so we moved down in there a couple times and it seemed like illegal procedure and holding put us in long-yardage situations."
Instead of taking to the air in those situations, Mansion handed the ball off to junior tailback Shane Vereen, who carried the ball 11 times for 65 yards in the first half alone, and finished with 23 carries for 106 yards-his 11th time passing the century mark.
"I wasn't frustrated at all, because we have a great running game," Mansion said. "Whenever you get a chance to get this guy (Vereen) the ball, there's great potential for great things to happen. I knew the game plan, I liked the game plan, I wasn't frustrated at all. Whenever you get the chance, you've got to take advantage of those opportunities."
In fact, for much of the game, Cal tried to get the ball into the hands of Allen, Vereen and Isi Sofele in any way possible, save for through the air. The Bears rushed 36 times for 191 yards while passing on just 23 plays. Allen saw the majority of his action in the wildcat, rushing seven times for 60 yards. Allen was also Cal's leading receiver, hauling in four catches for 46 yards. In special teams, Allen saw double-duty returning both punts and kicks. He took back two punts for eight yards and two kickoffs for 37 yards. For those keeping score, that's 151 all-purpose yards on a season-high 15 touches.
"We just had more confidence in the run game," Tedford said. "We felt like that would match up against them well, and we knew we were going to have to be patient with it because they're going to make their plays. They move a lot and they make their plays, but we felt like that was, we did make positive yards quite a bit of the time in the run game. I don't think it's any surprise that, right now, with Shane and those guys that we had, the run game was our strength. We didn't make enough plays in the passing game to do it. We got caught in too many long-yardage situations."
The second half saw the Huskies (5-6, 4-4) take the lead thanks to the arm of senior signal-caller Jake Locker. After the Bears' opening drive stalled at their own 49, junior punter Bryan Anger boomed a 51-yard punt into the Washington end zone for a touchback. On the very first play from scrimmage, Locker unloaded an 80-yard TD bomb to D'Andre Goodwin along the right sideline.
Locker found some of his old magic in the second half, somewhat redeeming an 8-for-14, 52-yard performance in the first. After the break, Locker went 9-of-13 for 185 yards and ran 10 times for 15 yards.
"I thought Jake showed a lot of guts in the second half," said Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian. "I don't know if he was great in the first half. We kind of got together and said, 'Let's just go play the game the way we know how to play.' I thought he showed a lot of guts, a lot of courage. There were some real courageous plays there, especially in the fourth quarter."
But before Locker could guide his team to the winning score, he had a little meeting with Mr. Jordan.
On third-and-20 from his own 30, late in the third quarter, Locker took the shotgun snap but was almost immediately set upon by Jordan and fellow senior, linebacker Mike Mohamed. Mohamed nailed Locker in the ribs, forcing the ball loose.
"Simply put, I saw the ball on the ground, I picked it up and I ran as fast as I could," said the inimitable Jordan, to a chorus of laughter in the press room. "I saw an opportunity and I took it, and I appreciate having that opportunity. I scored a touchdown my freshman year and I scored a touchdown my senior year. I've even had an interception, a kickoff return, I've done a lot in my career. I have nothing to complain about. I've had so many opportunities, and hopefully, I've seized every one to the fullest of my abilities.
"I saw (Locker) go down, and then I saw the ball wedge out. I was looking at it as I was running, and I was like, 'Huh, this is mine, eh?' Then, I took off with it."
A 37-yard field goal from Erik Folk tied the game at 10 at the end of the third quarter, and on Cal's first drive of the fourth, Tavecchio hit a 47-yarder to put the Bears ahead. Cue: Locker.
With 4:39 left on the clock, the Huskies' senior signal-caller hit a sideline pass to fullback Austin Sylvester for a two-yard gain, then found Jermaine Kearse for another six. A five-yard run by Polk gave Washington a fresh set of downs to work with, and Locker capitalized, finding Kearse again for a 46-yard bomb at the Bears' 20-yard line.
Jesse Callier ran for five yards to the Cal 15, and then Locker pulled the ball down for an eight-yard scamper, giving the Huskies a first-and-10 at the Bears' seven. Two more Locker runs got Washington to within inches of paydirt, and Cal called a timeout, allowing Sarkisian to rally his troops for one final push.
"I just told them, 'We've been preaching now for three weeks about how you've got to finish. There's no better way to finish than on the last play of the game. Here we go. This is what we do,'" Sarkisian said. "We're aggressive. We've been aggressive since day one since I got here, and we're not going to change. We're maybe a little smarter at times, but we're not going to change. I just wanted to make sure that we're all on the same page with what we're going to do."
And then, Washington threw the Bears a curveball.
"I knew they were going to come through the middle; me and my boy D-Hill (Derrick Hill) were talking this thing up, Trevor (Guyton) was right there, and we knew that they were going to come through the middle," Jordan said. "Then, we saw that they were going to get a little outside run."
On fourth-and-goal, Polk took the ball over the right guard for an easy touchdown to cap off the 16-13 win.
"I just sat and watched the Washington team come on the field, speechless," Cattouse said.
"It's going to be a quarterback sneak or they're going to run the ball straight ahead," Tedford said of the team's thought process. "I wouldn't expect them to run sideways in that situation. It's unfortunate that it came down to that, because the defense played great. It was a two-play game, the long ball they threw in the third quarter that we had very well defended, it got batted and the guy got it and ran for a touchdown. And of course that last play. The defense played excellent, and it is unfortunate that it came down to that at the end. You have to give credit to Kearse. He made a great catch down the stretch, a diving catch. You have to give him credit."
Mansion echoed his head coach, saying that the game came down to a few plays here or there, instead of any kind of larger issues.
"There's so many plays to be had," Mansion said. "It's tough to say that there needs to be a change, because every time you break the film down, it's a foot here, an inch there. There are plenty of opportunities and plenty of plays to be had."
And this Saturday, those plays were had by the Huskies, who will now play rival Washington State for the chance to go bowling, while the Bears stay home, looking in the mirror to see what can be done to right the ship.
"That will start immediately," Tedford said. "Throughout the season, you look to see where you can improve, and obviously, you evaluate every week and as we move forward, there will be a great deal of evaluation and we'll put a plan together and it starts with recruiting. That's what's next on the docket, is to hit the recruiting trail, which we will be on Monday. We'll be gone recruiting. There's evaluation every single year, no matter how many games you win. Obviously, we need to improve. We haven't had a season like this. There's a lot that needs to improve."