It was one of the coldest nights to date in Cal's Memorial Stadium for a game. Frost had settled onto the field at dusk and the bleachers were iced over. Those who braved the freezing temperatures in order to support the seniors had witnessed the coming of age of the young and inexperienced team. Injuries of the physical and mental state had plagued the team, but the young ones brought something different. Something that inspired the team, and the fans who were able to witness it.
The #2 Oregon Ducks, a juggarnaut team that laid over 50 points on USC the week prior, came into Berkeley with "business as usual" on their minds. They didn't let Cal's losing record influence their mental toughness and work ethic.Pregame, when asked if his team prepared any differently, Chip Kelly responded, "No."
The stadium was less than half full, and the student section looked almost anemic. What was worse, was that more than half of those who had arrived wore green and yellow. The Cal Band was still in full force, playing the "Big C" as they marched onto the field, writing out the "Cal" script with "Fight for California", and ending with the national anthem. As the Cal faithful cheered on the seniors, they felt that they could only feel bad for them as they were heavily outfavored by 27 points.
Prior to running out to the field, in the locker room, the senior defensive back screamed out his heart. It was one of the most emotional scenes in the locker room. A room full of pumped up, angry and mentally focussed young men and coaching staff were energized. A brief exerpt of what was said went like this: "This is our fucking house! This is it! This is for the seniors! For all my new brothers for life! This is for our parents! This is for our coaches! This is for everything! This is our Bowl game! We're gonna fucking do this shit! And it's going to fucking happen tonight!-"
ESPN 2's coverage continually hyped up Oregon's explosive offense, giving Cal no chance at all. Everyone agreed. Old footage of the 2010 game was played, but doubt resonated for an upset.
Oregon won the toss and elected to receive. The kick off was returned to Cal's 45. The fans knew what would ensue. The student section was half strength, as it reflected on the noise level. Those alumni who could muster it, screamed on Oregon's first possesion. It was a run up the middle, a gain of 15. The crowd was less audible. The next play was an option pass, which the QB decided to keep to toss into the endzone. Sure enough, it happened- 6 to nothing. A two point conversion made the cold Cal fans think about their walk back to their cars. The quarterback had so much time, and there was a vast amount of space between the receiver and the rest of Cal's defense.
Allan Bridgeford, the junior back up quarterback, came onto the field under center after Bigelow took a knee on the kickoff. The first play was a run up the middle with a gain of 2. The next play, Allan played to an outside linebacker blitz, took 3 steps back and threw to his hot read, only to have it batted down by the linebacker. The third play was a draw play with CJ anderson, but it was short.
The next series came along after Oregon scored again. It was 15 nothing, with 10 minutes still left in the 1st quarter. It was going to be a long game for the Cal fans. So it seemed. Allan's next possession was almost magic. On second and 9, instead of throwing to a bubble screen, he saw that his outside WR was in man coverage. He threw down the sideline, and with a circus catch, the young receiver snagged in a 15 yard play. The next play, the QB went down the middle to Richard Rodgers, and it was 1st and goal. With a play action play at Oregon's 6 yard line, Allan tossed a bullet into Harper's hands for a touchdown.
This got Cal slightly more optimistic. They still knew that this would not continue. There was no way. The odds were against them. However, each drive, continued to play out. It was a shoot out. By halftime, after a play that brought life back into a dismal stadium, where Allan threw a 45 yard touchdown to Bigelow, the score was 36 to 35, Ducks!
The fans and Cal bench were going nuts before the half. When asked if there would be any adjustments for the next half, Chip Kelly said, "yes."
During the half time show on ESPN, while the Cal Band was playing the hits from the 00's, there was more mentioning of Oregon's ability to break away and seal the deal in the second half. The announcers almost begrudgingly said that there might be an upset, but they couldn't believe it. Nor could the rest of the college nation.
For some reason, during the second half, more fans had showed up. As if they saw what was going to happen. Cal came back onto the field with a focus. Cal came back with another touchdown drive! This time with a balanced attack with running, a huge pass to Rodgers again, and an almost pinpoint accurate throw into the endzone between 2 defenders. The timing on that one was unbelievable.
With 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter, with Cal down by 8 points, Chip Kelly had decided to re-implement the long drive that drained the clock in 2010. However, the freezing temperatures made the football hard and iced over from the frost on the field. The first exchange was a fumble, and Cal recovered in Duck territory. Cal went for the jugular and threw to the endzone from Oregon's 30 yard line. 56-55. The crowd went nuts.
With 3 minutes left, Oregon had fumbled again, this time due to a Cal defender. The senior defensive back had dropped his hammer into the runner, causing a fumble recovered by Cal.
The college football world was about to turn upside down.There was 3 seconds left, with Cal in Oregon's territory. The 42 yard field goal attempt was going to haunt the kicker if he missed. But, after the failed attempts in Ohio State, he redeemed himelf with the winner. Cal won by 2 points.
As the Cal faithful skated their ways to the frosty fields to celebrate with warm hearts, Oregon left Memorial Stadium with 1 loss.
But fear not PAC12 fans, because Notre Dame, Kansas State, and Florida State all had lost their remaining 2 games due to key injuries. Oregon still goes for the National Championship with Bama. Oregon beats Bama by 21 points.
It was like a beautiful unicorn, made of mystical powers and serendipitous magic. A season of shattered optimism only to be brought to life by the Icy Unicorn. As the Bear Faithful left the final game of Strawberry Canyon this year under the cold crisp clear skies, there was a smile to be worn.
And they all lived happily ever after...
I can dream, right?