Fans storm field following 46-38 homecoming win
When Jameel Powell came back to earth with the football clutched to his chest, he was immediately smothered by his teammates in celebration of his game-ending interception.
“It was starting to hurt with everyone jumping on me and beating on me,” Powell said after everyone rolled off of him. “But it was a good pain.”
Powell had just wrestled the ball away from UCLA wideout Brian Poli-Dixon in the end zone, giving the Bears (2-4, 1-2 Pac-10) a 46-38 victory in the third overtime of the game.
The pressure lifted off of Powell when the pile dispersed was nothing compared to the pressure the Bears were under as a team Saturday. A four-game losing streak and five straight games against ranked opponents had a lot of Cal fans thinking a 1-10 record was not only possible, but looking pretty darn probable. But by playing it’s best game of the year against its toughest opponent so far, the team pulled the biggest upset of the Pac-10 season.
Quarterback Kyle Boller threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns, including two long scores to tailback Joe Igber, and the Cal defense finally came up with the big play they’ve been looking for all year when safety Nnamdi Asomugha picked off a Cory Paus pass and ran it 31 yards to the end zone to give the Bears a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.
Cal head coach Tom Holmoe said he knew early on that his team was on its toes Saturday.
“They came out in warmups a little different,” Holmoe said. “They had a great feel for the game. They were kind of electric.”
That electricity flowed through Igber early in the first quarter, when he took an innocent-looking screen pass and weaved his way through the UCLA defense for a 23-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Cal lead. And when the Bears got the ball on the UCLA 36 the next period, Igber gave the crowd another jolt when he took a play-action pass from Boller and glided into the end zone on the first and only play of the drive, restoring the Cal lead at 14-7.
“Coach (Steve) Hagen put some new routes for the tailbacks. I thought UCLA would be tough on the ground, so we had to get our yards another way,” Igber said. “Everybody else did exactly what they needed to do, and Kyle got me the ball.”
When tailback Joe Echema dove into the end zone to cap off an 11-play, 70-yard drive that made the score 28-14 with 4:48 left in the third quarter, the Bears looked to be cruising to a landmark victory. But soon after that, the Bears began to look like the group that had lost four games in a row, turning the ball over and giving up just enough points to lose.
With 10 minutes left in the game, tight end Keala Keanaaina dove to catch a pass from Boller. But Keanaaina bobbled the ball, then managed to kick it right into the hands of prone UCLA linebacker Marques Anderson, giving the visitors the ball on the Cal 39. Five plays later, Paus found tailback Akil Harris unattended in the left flat, and Harris rumbled 20 yards for the score.
On the ensuing drive, Echema coughed up the ball on a handoff from Boller right into the waiting arms of UCLA’s Tony White. When Paus hit wideout Freddie Mitchell with a 35-yard pass right down the middle to tie the score, the crowd of more than 50,000 in Memorial Stadium had every right to be pessimistic about the Bears finishing skills.
“When they caught up and tied it up, I know a lot of people were thinking
‘uh-oh, here we go again,’” Holmoe said. “They’ve won all their games coming from behind. I knew that. When they came back and tied it up, it didn’t bode very well for for us.”
But unlike the previous four games, the Bears didn’t fold in the face of adversity. They stopped the bleeding to force overtime with the score tied at 28, and Boller stepped up to lead the offense to three straight scores.
The Bruins chose to play defense first in the first overtime, and Boller made them pay. On the second play of the drive, he found wide receiver Derek Swafford on a post pattern for a 22-yard touchdown.
Swafford, who has battled injuries most of this season, had dropped a similar pass earlier in the game. Instead of beating himself up about his miscue, Swafford leaned on his teammates’ support and got back into the game.
“Everyone was right there picking me up,” Swafford said. “The guys on the team were telling me they'd come right back to me. That really helped me out.”
UCLA looked shaky during their possession, needing to convert two fourth downs before Paus sneaked over from the 1 to tie the game again. The teams traded field goals in the second overtime.
Going into the third overtime, the Bears looked to score quickly as Boller lofted a pass to the end zone for Swafford. Bruins cornerback Ricky Manning, Jr., beaten on the play, dragged Swafford down before the receiver could catch the ball, resulting in a pass-interference penalty that took the ball down to the three-yard line. Igber scored on a cutback run to put the Bears ahead on the next play.
After the second overtime, NCAA rules state that teams must go for a two-point conversion following a touchdown. Cal was caught unprepared on a two-point conversion situation earlier this season against Illinois, but not this time. Boller hit freshman wideout Geoff McArthur on a quick slant to set the final score, leaving it up to the defense to stop the Bruins.
Powell did just that by making his second interception of the day, which he credited to Asomugha.
“Namdi really gave me the pick by taking the inside away, and I just ran for the ball and caught it. I was trying to keep my leverage,” Powell said.
Asomugha called the play with Powell’s coverage skills in mind.
“Jameel has proven that he can win the one-on-one battle all year,” he said.
As the fans poured onto the field in celebration, Boller found himself lifted onto someone’s shoulders and carried around the field. The quarterback, who is from the Los Angeles area, dreamed of playing for UCLA but was turned off when the school offered a scholarship to another quarterback before him.
“It was just crazy. I never imagined we’d have fans running all over the field. It's undescribable,” he said.