Photo: Shane Vereen rushed for 112 yards on 26 carries. He scored his 16th touchdown this season on Cal's first drive, tying Jahvid Best and Marshawn Lynch for ninth all-time in career points.
Lara Brucker/Staff
Shane Vereen rushed for 112 yards on 26 carries. He scored his 16th touchdown this season on Cal's first drive, tying Jahvid Best and Marshawn Lynch for ninth all-time in career points.

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Cal vs. University of Oregon
Cal vs. University of Oregon, November 13, 2010

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Memorial Stadium ran out of magic Saturday night.

There was enough of it for the Cal football team to hold No. 1 Oregon below 40 points for the first time all season. Enough for Derrick Hill to swat the ball out of Darron Thomas' hand and chase it into the end zone for his career-first forced fumble, fumble recovery and touchdown. Enough for timely injuries to help slow down what had been the nation's most lethally efficient offense.

But after Ducks tailback LaMichael James charged up the middle for a game-clinching first down with roughly a minute left, no spell could fill the emptiness of the Bears' 15-13 loss - Cal's (5-5, 3-4 in the Pac-10) first at home in 2010.

"You pour your heart and soul into something, you gave the effort you gave and you lay it all on the field ... There's really no consolation," coach Jeff Tedford said. "You can say it's a moral victory, but in your gut, it doesn't feel any better."

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Bears linebacker D.J. Holt kneeled down and stared for almost a minute, the thoughts of "what if" likely swarming as players on both sides dispersed.

The defensive unit had delivered arguably its best performance under coordinator Clancy Pendergast, loss notwithstanding. An Oregon (10-0, 7-0) attack that averages over 50 points per game managed just one offensive touchdown - a smooth, 29-yard catch-and-run by wideout Jeff Maehl in the third.

The Ducks' other score came on a booming beauty of a punt by the Bears' Bryan Anger. The 57-yarder sailed past Cal's coverage, giving Oregon's Cliff Harris enough room to cut across the field and along the sideline. It was the sophomore cornerback's fourth punt-return touchdown this fall.

Thomas and the rest of the offense were flustered in a way they've never been. The quarterback finished with 155 yards on 15-of-29 passing. Both were his second-lowest season outputs.

Heisman candidate LaMichael James rushed for a 91 yards on 29 carries, giving him a single-game career low of 3.1 yards per carry.

"All the rest of the Pac-10 can take notes right now," safety Chris Conte said.

Linebacker Mike Mohamed said earlier this week that the team just needed to stick to their assignments. Doubtful as most people were then, the plan worked.

"When they're running plays that fast, they don't run a lot of plays," Conte added. "In our game, that last drive, they ran the same play the whole series ... Just keeping the game plan simple really works on defense."

But Cal's offense was as anemic as its defense was brilliant.

In the second start of his career, quarterback Brock Mansion completed just 10 of his 28 passes. Although he avoided any interceptions, he amassed a paltry 69 yards through the air, particularly struggling with his touch on deep throws.

"You could tell he was rushing," Tedford said. "He's an inexperienced guy. A lot of things are moving really fast."

Even Shane Vereen, who churned out 112 yards and a score in his usual workhorse role, gave up a costly fumble at the Cal 29-yard line that set up the Maehl touchdown to give Oregon a 15-7 lead.

It didn't help that kicker Giorgio Tavecchio shanked a 29-yarder with Cal down 15-13 to start the final period. The junior made his initial 24-yard attempt to give Cal an apparent 16-13 lead, but was called for an illegal motion penalty. His second hooked right.

"I was trying to visualize my solid planted foot, feel the solid contact running throughout my body," he said. "I felt I hit the ball solid again. It just pulled a little bit."

Inexcusable as the miss was, the loss doesn't rest on his leg alone. Although Oregon's Rob Beard had whiffed on two field goals of his own, the Ducks could have easily chipped one in - if not scored a touchdown - on their final, time-eating drive.

Cal now prepares for a visit from No. 7 Stanford, which endured a 17-13 scare of its own at Arizona State, while Oregon's quest for a national championship moves on.

"We knew that this season isn't going to be all blowouts ..." Ducks defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. "A W is a W, right?"


Jack Wang covers football. Contact him at [email protected]

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