(Saturday, November 13th)
Final Score: (1) Oregon 15, California 13
Berkeley, CA (Sports Network) - The top-ranked Oregon Ducks came into Saturday's action having scored at least 42 points in each of their first nine games, but on a day when the offense wasn't clicking, the defense and special teams came through to keep their national title hopes alive.
Cliff Harris returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown in the first half, and the Ducks' (10-0, 7-0 Pac-10) defense stopped California on what proved to be a crucial two-point conversion attempt in a 15-13 win over the Golden Bears to remain unbeaten.
The Bears (5-5, 3-4) also saw three critical points go by the wayside in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, when kicker Giorgio Tavecchio was called for an inexplicable illegal motion penalty on a 24-yard field goal attempt. Forced to move back five yards, Tavecchio shanked the ensuing try, and Oregon held on for the victory after an impressive final drive that erased the final 9:25 of the game.
"A win's a win. We're happy. We're 10-0," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. "We have this week to improve in practice - we'll practice a couple days this week - and get ready for a really good Arizona team. That's what this league is all about, and I've said it from day one: winning on the road in this conference is very difficult, and we've been fortunate four times."
Darron Thomas threw for 155 yards and a touchdown on 15-of-29 passing for the Ducks, who are 10-0 for the first time in team history and host a ranked Arizona team in two weeks. LaMichael James became the second-leading rusher in school history with 91 yards on 29 carries, and Jeff Maehl caught five passes for 84 yards and a score.
Brock Mansion, filling in for an injured Kevin Riley, struggled to complete passes, throwing for just 69 yards on 10-of-28 efficiency for the Bears. Shane Vereen ran for 112 yards and a touchdown in the close defeat.
"(The defense) played their hearts out. There is no question about it," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "To give up one touchdown against that offense; they played great. The defensive coaches had a great plan; the kids executed it. All week long they sold out in the preparation. The belief and intensity going into the game was awesome. It is a shame, it's a shame. I feel sick for the kids."
Oregon, which led, 8-7, following a low-scoring first half, forced Vereen to fumble the ball away on the second play from scrimmage in the second half. The Ducks recovered at the opposing 29, and Thomas threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Maehl on the next play for a 15-7 advantage.
"Just a great play call by Chip, scheming it up coming out of halftime," Maehl said. "They were playing man the whole game. It was just a crossing route to try and get a pick, and Darron put it on me."
Rob Beard missed a 48-yard field goal that would have given the Ducks a two- possession lead, and the offense began at its 12 following a punt from Cal with just over nine minutes left in the third.
Thomas went back to pass, but Derrick Hill swatted the ball out of his hand as he went through his throwing motion; the ball bounced back into the end zone, and Hill recovered it for a Bears touchdown and two-point game.
Attempting to tie the game, Mansion's pass play failed, and Oregon maintained its slim lead.
On the Bears' next possession, they got all the way down to the Ducks' four before facing a 4th-and-5 from the seven. Tavecchio lined up for the field goal, which he hit from 24 yards away, but the referees negated it with an illegal motion penalty on Tavecchio, who did not reset after he began to run prior to the snap.
Cal still had an opportunity to take a one-point lead, but Tavecchio's 29-yard attempt sailed wide right.
The Bears' next drive wasn't nearly as successful, and they punted the ball away with 9 1/2 minutes to go. The Ducks were able to run off the remainder of the clock, converting four third downs on the ensuing series, including a game-sealing, seven-yard run by James on 3rd-and-5 from the Cal 19.
"Coach Kelly told us in the huddle before we went out there that this was going to be the drive of the year," Thomas said. "This was going to be the drive we were going to remember. Go out there and put it away."
The Bears got off to a good start on their opening drive, traveling 49 yards in just six plays. Vereen capped the series with a one-yard run to give the hosts an early 7-0 advantage.
The Ducks failed to score in the first quarter, but their special teams got them on the board in the second. Cal went three-and-out near the midway point of the quarter, and Harris was able to return a punt 64 yards to the end zone.
As Oregon often does, it went for the two-point conversion, which was successful after Dion Jordan scampered into the end zone for an 8-7 lead.
Cal still leads the all-time series, 39-32-2...Oregon was held to a season-low 317 yards of offense...The Bears fell to 0-11 all-time against the top-ranked team...Oregon has won 22 of its last 25 conference games...The Ducks' closest game prior to Saturday had been an 11-point win over Arizona State...James passed current Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart on Oregon's all-time rushing list. James now has 2,948 career rushing yards...With the win, the Ducks' senior class became the all-time winningest class in school history.
11/13 23:54:49 ET