Bears Weather Hurricanes, Capture Emerald Bowl 24-17

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In making the defining play of Saturday night's Emerald Bowl, Cal senior linebacker Zack Follett made sure that the final image of him in blue and gold was a fitting one.

With the Bears and Miami tied 17-17 and under four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Follett chased down Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris and forced a fumble that was recovered by Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan.

Two plays later, quarterback Nate Longshore found freshman tight end Anthony Miller in the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown as the Bears (9-4) weathered the Hurricanes' pesky offense and rode tailback Jahvid Best's 186 rushing yards for a 24-17 win on Saturday night at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif.

With the Emerald Bowl win, Cal improved to 5-1 in bowl games under coach Jeff Tedford and have now won four straight. Follett, who said earlier in the week that he wanted to preserve his personal streak of never having lost a bowl, made good with the game-changing defensive play.

"I came around the edge, did the one-arm like (linebackers coach Kenwick Thompson) was telling me all game, and once (Harris) put the ball down and started to roll out, I knew I had him," Follett said.

It was the 13th career forced fumble for the senior, who has made a name for himself over the last four years with the big play. On Saturday, Follett's hustle swung the momentum of a game that looked to be falling right into Miami's hands.

After jumping ahead 14-0 in the first quarter, the Cal offense-as it has repeatedly this season-stalled and produced just three points over the next 45 minutes of play, finishing with just 11 first downs and converting 2-of-11 third-down attempts. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes (7-6) fought their way back into the game on the arm of Harris. The freshman passer appeared to settle down as the night went on, rolling out of the pocket more on passing plays, ultimately finishing with 25 completions on 41 attempts for 194 yards and two touchdowns.

Miami tied the game at 17-17 on a Matt Bosher field goal with 9:13 left in the fourth and, after Bears kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missed a potential go-ahead field goal from 34 yards out with 4:24 remaining, the Hurricanes were set up for the completion of their comeback.

Enter Follett.

"Upperclassmen, older guys made plays (for Cal) and I think that was a real big key," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "I think the defensive players, some of those guys came up with some big plays in big situations."

Jordan recovered the fumble and returned it to the 2-yard line. After one attempt at punching it in with Best, the Bears opted to go to the air with Longshore rolling out and completing his only touchdown pass of the night to Miller-who hauled it in for the first catch of his Cal career.

"It was a slide route, we shifted (fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou) out to open up the edge and (tight end Cameron Morrah) was supposed to slide underneath," Bears coach Jeff Tedford said. "Nate did a nice job of staying patient and kept rolling, had nice vision up over the top. Anthony found the back of the end zone and Nate put it right on his numbers."

It was the 51st touchdown pass of Longshore's Cal career, tying him for third all-time in program history. Longshore started over redshirt sophomore Kevin Riley and played the entire game, completing 10-of-21 passes for 121 yards and the scoring throw to Miller.

After a roller-coaster career with the Bears, it was perhaps fitting that Longshore-the second-winningest quarterback in Cal history-went out with the victory.

"It obviously feels good to win," Longshore said. "It always feels good to win a bowl game, especially, and playing against a good team like Miami. They were better than I even thought they were going to be once I got out there.

"It definitely feels good to go out on top."

He received a lot of help from Best, who was named the most outstanding offensive player of the game. Exploiting a Hurricanes run defense that had allowed an average of 260 rushing yards in its five losses on the season, the sophomore sensation averaged an astounding 9.3 yards per carry and found the end zone twice.

"We came out and we made a few mistakes (on defense)," Hurricanes linebacker Glenn Cook said. "The last couple weeks during the season we were making the same mistakes and (Best) took advantage of it."

Best got the Bears on the board midway through the first quarter with a one-yard touchdown run following a 74-yard pass completion from Longshore to wideout Verran Tucker. On the first play of Cal's next drive, Best took a handoff from Longshore and cut back across the line of scrimmage, sidestepping one Miami defender and sprinting 42 yards into the end zone.

The sophomore set the Emerald Bowl record for rushing yards in a game and finished the season with 1,580 yards-the No. 2 rushing performance in school history. His season average of 8.1 yards per rush is also a new Cal record.

"I didn't even know I had a bowl record," Best quipped after the game. "But this game just meant so much for me playing for these seniors, and playing a lot for Will Ta'ufo'ou. He doesn't get a lot of the recognition that he deserves and I was laying it on the line for him."

With the win, Ta'ufo'ou, Follett, Longshore, center Alex Mack and the rest of the Cal seniors put the finishing touch on a nine-win 2008 season.

"Very proud of this group of guys, our seniors especially, to go out with another bowl victory," Tedford said. "They've had a great career here. All these guys are going out on a positive note.

"Winning nine games, it's not easy to win nine games. That's an accomplishment for this team and so I know we'll continue to come back and work hard for next season. And for those guys to go out with nine wins, I think, is something they can really be proud of."

Tags: JAHVID BEST, ZACK FOLLETT, JEFF TEDFORD, NATE LONGSHORE, CAL FOOTBALL


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]



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