Cal Bears 41, UCLA 20

October 25, 2008 6:12:00 PM PDT
After California barely foiled UCLA's fake punt early in the fourth quarter, coach Jeff Tedford figured his team's luck was finally turning.

So he decided to press it with a flea-flicker that propelled the Golden Bears to a fine finish.

Kevin Riley threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Nyan Boateng after that tricky pitchback from tailback Jahvid Best, and Mike Mohamed returned an interception 19 yards for a score 19 seconds later in Cal's 41-20 victory over UCLA on Saturday.

After taking a four-point lead into the fourth quarter, the Golden Bears (5-2, 3-1 Pac-10) turned it into a rout with 24 straight points, keeping them unbeaten at Memorial Stadium this season.

But Cal didn't break free of the Bruins until Chris Conte sniffed out UCLA punter Aaron Perez's 22-yard pass to Courtney Viney, stopping him 1 yard shy of a first down with 10:05 to play.

During the ensuing TV timeout, Tedford reclaimed Cal's play-calling duties for a moment.

"We actually called a different play, but Coach Tedford came back and said, 'Let's take our chances,"' Boateng said.

Best flawlessly pitched it back to Riley, who hit Boateng almost in stride 60 yards away for the Florida transfer's third touchdown. The score gave Cal its first comfortable lead and kept the Bears in the thick of the Pac-10 race after falling out of the Top 25 last week with a loss at Arizona.

"It was just something we practiced on," Best said of the flea-flicker. "I never really thought we were going to run it, but we did."

Cal's defense covered for its mediocre offense and atrocious special-teams play with four interceptions, including Marcus Ezeff's early 69-yard TD return. Two snaps after Boateng's big catch, Mohamed essentially sealed the win when the linebacker grabbed a tipped pass and dived to stretch the ball over the corner of the goal line.

Mohamed saw the victory as redemption for the defense's poor performance at Tucson.

"That wasn't the team that we've prided ourselves on being all year," Mohamed said. "We worked all week to get back to the stiff Cal defense that we know."

Best rushed for 115 yards and a score, while Riley passed for 153 yards and two TDs in his return to the starting lineup after losing the job to Nate Longshore for two games. Shane Vereen's 99 yards rushing included a 56-yard romp in the closing moments.

"We were not very good," Tedford said of Cal's offense. "We had way too many penalties (eight for 65 yards), and you just can't live like that."

Glenn Love recovered a blocked punt in the end zone in the first quarter for the Bruins, scoring their only touchdown until Dominique Johnson's 9-yard catch from Chris Forcier with 1:36 left. UCLA (3-5, 2-3), which managed just 16 yards rushing, has yet to win on the road under first-year coach Rick Neuheisel.

"We need to figure out how to stop making three-and-outs, and run the rock," said tailback Khalil Bell, who had 5 yards on six runs. "We have a great defense, but they were out there all game. They're doing their job. The offense needs to become men. We're college (Division) I football players. We've got to figure out how to win games, and until we figure that out, it's going to be the same outcome every week."

Kevin Craft passed for 206 yards, but threw four interceptions for the second time this season. Craft had thrown just three interceptions in the Bruins' last six games since his four-pick opener against Tennessee, but tipped balls led to two of the Golden Bears' interceptions.

"We have not achieved the ability to take the pressure off our quarterback," Neuheisel said. "There's no place to point. It puts a lot of pressure on (Craft) in terms of making plays down the field, and it puts a lot of pressure on your protection."

Forcier, a freshman who threw his first career pass three games earlier, threw another early pass against Cal before hitting Johnson for his first career completion and TD throw.

Both teams' offenses struggled despite ideal weather conditions on a picture-perfect day in Strawberry Canyon.

Craft's first pass was tipped for an interception on the Bruins' first play, and UCLA had minus-3 yards of offense and no completions in the first quarter -- yet the Bruins went ahead 7-3 when Sean Westgate blocked Bryan Anger's punt at the goal line on the first play of the second quarter.

Best, who's playing with a sprained ankle and an older elbow injury, put Cal back in front with a 34-yard sprint for a score moments later. Ezeff then returned his interception down the UCLA sideline midway through the quarter.


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