For the Bears, the feeling falls on the other end of the spectrum.
After a season that had everything from losses in the last-minute, to missed potentially game-winning field goals, to blowouts, it was only fitting that the conclusion of the 2010 season would come down to that final play. Even more fitting, Polk's touchdown run would also be the final play at the current configuration at historic Memorial Stadium before undergoing a major renovation in 2011. The play is also historic in the sense that it handed Cal their first losing season since 2001, and their first bowl season spent at home since 2002.
"It's very disappointing," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford.
"Obviously, you work long and hard. The players put in a lot of time and energy and effort, all the way back to January. Today was the first time we have been in this situation in nine years, to come down to the last game. It is very unfortunate, and I feel bad for the seniors because they have given a lot to this program. They have been to a bowl game every year since they have been here. So this is, no doubt, disappointing."
Despite the last-second touchdown, the defense fought resiliently, limiting Washington to 16 points. But the story of the game comes down to several big plays.
A flukey 80-yard touchdown reception by Washington senior D'Andre Goodwin, who was heavily guarded by Cal sophomore cornerback Marc Anthony, was the only other touchdown given up by Cal's defense before the last play of the ballgame. On Washington's final drive, Locker hit Jermaine Kearse on a deep route for 46 yards, which set up the final score. Such big plays gave Washington the chance to win.
"The defense played great. But really, it was a two-play game," said Tedford. "The long ball that they threw in the third quarter that we had very-well defended...and the one at the very end of the game. Defense played excellent, and it is unfortunate that it came down to that at the end. You have to give him credit, Kearse made a great catch down the stretch there."
Following the pass to Kearse, Locker continued to lead his team down the field, namely with his feet. Designed draw plays of eight and six yards by Locker gave the Huskies second and goal at the 1-yard line with under one minute left. Locker, who finished 17-of-27 for 237 yards, one touchdown, and one interception with 11 net yards rushing, finally had the drive that put his team in its best position to win.
But the Bears defense, which has been everything from dominant to lost at times this season, did not give up. On second and goal from the one, Locker tried a quick sneak, but he was denied. On third and goal, Locker again tried another quick sneak, but the defensive line actually pushed him back for a loss on the play.
That set the Huskies up with 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line, with 0:02 showing on the clock. Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian, who has learned from the aggressive style of former USC coach Pete Carroll while at USC, had no doubts in his mind to go for the win.
"When we sneaked it on the second [try], they were really piled in the A-gaps and the four-point stances so we knew exactly what we were going to do," said Sarkisian. "We wanted to run the power play to the strong side out of the same formation."
Kearse took the handoff and simply pushed into the end zone, sending the wet Memorial Stadium crowd of 44,613 – at least, those not dressed in purple – to the exits for the last time, knowing that Cal football would not be played there for two years. The Huskies rushed the field and dog-piled (pun intended) Polk in the end zone, while Cal could only quietly walk towards the north tunnel, pondering what could have gone differently.
The play was especially bitter for senior defensive lineman Cameron Jordan, who could only lie on the ground and watch as the Huskies celebrated their first win inside Memorial Stadium since 2001.
"I definitely thought we were going to stuff them," said Jordan, who finished with six tackles and two tackles for loss. "I thought Locker was going to keep it, and they hit the perimeter."
"I sort of went numb for a second. I just looked up at the clock, realized that there was no time left – no time for our offense, not even one more offensive throw. I went numb, and realized that that was the end of my Cal career."
Just like that, Jordan's up-and-down Cal career came to an end. But, the game did not just have his down moments. Jordan sparked momentum for the Bears in the third quarter when he picked up a Jake Locker fumble – forced by senior linebacker Mike Mohamed – and returned it 26 yards for the Bears score. The play gave the Bears a 10-7 lead, and provided the Bears with a legitimate chance to win.
"Simply put, I saw the ball on the ground, I picked it up, and I ran as fast as I could," said Jordan regarding his touchdown. "I saw an opportunity and I took it. I appreciate having that opportunity. I scored a touchdown my freshman year, and I scored a touchdown my senior year. It's been great."
And while Jordan will go into the offseason getting ready to be selected in the NFL Draft, the rest of the Bears will go in looking for ways to get back on track. Fans, after all, do expect big changes.
Mansion, who finished a pedestrian 12-for-23 for 92 yards and an interception, will be the focal point of what will be an open-competition at quarterback in the spring. Mansion figures to be the favorite of a fairly large group of quarterbacks competing for the 2011 job.
But with guys like Jordan, Mohamed, nose tackle Derrick Hill, safety Chris Conte, and perhaps even junior running back Shane Vereen all moving on, the Bears will have plenty of competition outside of quarterback, looking for playmakers at plenty of other positions. Besides that, head coach Jeff Tedford will also need to figure out a way to restore pride and confidence into a program that has seemingly been on a downward trend in recent years.
"Throughout the season, you look to see where we can improve," said Tedford. "We evaluate it every week. As we move forward, there will be a great deal of evaluation and we'll put a plan together. Obviously, we need to improve."
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