Okay, Cal fans: fess up. With Colorado leading Cal 33-30 in overtime and the Bears' offense facing 1st and 30 at the 35-yard line, how many of you were preparing for a not-so-happy ending? How many of you were thinking that the best we could hope for was Giorgio Tavecchio attempting a long field goal to send the game into a second overtime? Raise your hands.
(My hand goes up.)
Well, you know what? WE WERE WRONG. And why were we wrong? Because Cal had a play for 1st and 30. It was Zach Maynard throwing a strike to his brother, Keenan Allen, along the left sideline for a gain of 32 yards and a first down for Cal at the Colorado three-yard line. Two plays later, the same duo connected again -- this time, on a fade to the right corner of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
From 1st and 30 to celebrating on the Folsom Field turf three plays later. Wow. And whew. What a game. Exhale. Deep breath. Exhale. Cal is 2-0.
This game was certainly full of reasons why Cal should feel fortunate to escape beautiful Boulder, CO, with a win in this nonconference matchup of Pac-12 conference members. The Buffs did not let Cal reprise its 52-7 rout in Berkeley last season. And a big reason for that was the passing game -- specifically, the deadly combination of Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen and wide receiver Paul Richardson. Hansen threw for 474 yards and three touchdowns -- two of them to Richardson, who caught touchdown passes of 66 and 78 yards on his way to an 11-catch, 284 yard performance. In all, Colorado amassed 582 yards of total offense to Cal's 370.
Colorado moved the ball well from the get go. On its first drive, Colorado kept the ball for 13 plays, driving 66 yards to the Cal 9-yard line before the Bears' defense left the Buffs empty handed with a stop on a 4th-and-1. But after a Maynard interception on the ensuing series, Colorado again moved the ball against the Cal defense. Aided by a beautiful 36-yard pass play from Hansen to Richardson, Colorado drove to the Cal 10, where they settled for a 27-yard field goal from freshman kicker Will Oliver to take a 3-0 lead.
It was then that the Cal offense shook off the cobwebs and got it going. A 10-play, 81-yard drive -- highlighted by the trickeration double pass from Maynard to Allen and back to Maynard -- was capped off by fullback Nico Dumont's first touchdown reception of his Cal career. Continuing a theme that Cal fans have grown tired of already, Giorgio Tavecchio's extra point attempt was blocked, leaving Cal's lead at 6-3.
After the teams exchanged field goals, Cal got a big lift going into halftime. Taking over at their own 38 yard line with 4:02 left in the first half, the Bears drove 62 yards in seven plays to take a 16-6 lead. Maynard found his brother for a 37-yard gain on the drive and tight end Anthony Miller (who was plagued by the dropsies at other times in this game) snared 7-yard touchdown catch with one hand on a beautifully designed pass play in the red zone to cap the drive.
So at the half, things were looking good for the Bears. Cal had a 10-point lead and, notwithstanding the Buffaloes' success at moving the football, the Bears' defense had kept the Buffs out of the end zone. And the Buffs were self-destructing, committing seven first half penalties for 68 yards. (Colorado finished the game with 12 penalties for 98 yards, while Cal improved on last week's penalty-filled performance by committing 5 penalties for 50 yards.)
But Colorado's offense made a game of it in the second half with the aid of a questionable, momentum-changing call by the officials. After Miller caught his second touchdown pass of the game from Maynard to answer a Colorado score, Cal had a 23-13 lead with 4:38 left in the third quarter. Things looked even better on the next series, when Mychal Kendricks dropped Buffs running back Rodney Stewart for a five-yard loss on a 3rd and 4 play. But D-lineman Trevor Guyton was called for a personal foul, as the referee ruled Guyton hit Stewart after the whistle had blown. The sound-and-visual replay showed that call to be questionable at best.
Old Mo put on a Colorado jersey immediately. Three plays later, Hansen found Richardson on a 66-yard touchdown strike. And on the first play of the fourth quarter, Hansen and Richardson dialed long distance again for a 78-yard score, giving Colorado a 27-23 lead.
But the Bears didn't take Old Mo's jersey change seriously. Cal answered with a gutty, gritty, clutch 11-play, 80 yard drive. You want clutch? How about Maynard to Mike Calvin to convert a 3rd and 3 and then Maynard to Calvin again to convert a 3rd and 10. And how about C.J. Anderson running angry, breaking tackles, and scampering for a 19-yard touchdown run on 3rd and 1? Gutty, gritty, and clutch. And a 30-27 Cal lead with 9:55 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Cal could not put the Buffs away, however, and Colorado engineered a late drive that ended with a 32-yard game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime. On both the last Colorado drive in regulation and in the overtime, Cal cornerback Steve Williams broke up pass plays to Richardson, as the Bears finally had an answer for the deadly Hansen-to-Richardson combination. The Williams play in overtime was particularly key, as his pass breakup in the end zone forced Colorado to settle for a 22-yard field goal, which gave the Bears the opportunity to win the game with a touchdown.
And from 1st and 30, the Bears came through. It's good to be 2-0 heading to the "home" opener at AT&T Park next week. Look out, Blue Hose: the Bears are on a roll!
Some noteworthy "firsts" in today's win:
* Cal's first overtime win since 2006 (31-24 over Washington)
* Cal's first road overtime win ever
* Cal's first win on a walk-off touchdown since 1996 (3 OT win vs. Oregon State)
* Cal's first win after trailing in overtime since 2000 (vs. Ucla)