Ducks Fumble Away a Chance

Eugene – It was well worth the price of admission and all the hyperbole that led up to Saturday's game was as advertised. Unfortunately for the Oregon Ducks, when Referee Jack Wood announced that a replay confirmed that Cameron Colvin fumbled the ball through the endzone prior to crossing the plain, the decision was final and the 11th rank Ducks (4-1) lost 31-24 to the 6th ranked Bears (5-0).

(PHOTO) Dennis Dixon eyes the scoreboard replay of Cameron Colvin's fumble at the end of the California game. (Photo by Chris Wilson)

"California is a good football team, but they took advantage of some things we gave them," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti. "We didn't keep the ball enough in the second half."

While the first half of the contest looked like the game would be a defensive struggle, in fact the offensive statistics ended up pretty normal for both teams. Oregon finished the game with 497 yards of total offense while California had 400. Dennis Dixon threw for 306 yards on 31-of-44, one touchdown and two very costly interceptions. Dixon also ran for 17 yards and a touchdown.

"We played well in the first half," Bellotti said. "Our defense played excellent, and our offense to battle back and have a chance to at the end was amazing."

Jonathan Stewart was a workhorse and for the fourth time this season went over the 100-yard mark as he tallied 120 yards on 21 carries, crossing the goal line once. Cameron Colvin had seven catches for 75 yards including a 42-yard touchdown grab.

Cal's stars shinned as brightly as everyone thought they would. DeSean Jackson had 11 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Justin Forsett seemed to be contained for the most of the game but when the final statistics were released, he had 23 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Nate Longshore was 28-for-43, 285 yards and two touchdowns.

"I don't know if I can put into words how proud I am of these guys," said a happy California Head Coach Jeff Tedford of his team. "I'm just so proud of them and I think today was an all around great team effort and we came up with some big plays."

The big figure that haunted the Ducks and escaped Cal was turnovers. The Ducks had turnover epidemic in the second half. Some appeared to be disastrous, but weren't, while others didn't seem possible but were. With the Ducks trailing 24-17 in the fourth quarter, Cal's Jordan Kay kicked off and both of Oregon's return men, Andre Crenshaw and Derrick Jones zeroed in on ball. Too bad that the pair of Ducks crashed into each other and the ball went sliding on the carpet. California's Jahvid Best jumped on the ball and Cal was back in business at the Oregon 26. The play though seemed to fire the Duck defense up because all the Bears could do on the drive was go backwards. Oregon forced Cal to punt the Oregon 40 and a disaster was avoided. In fact the Ducks started off the next drive from their own 9 and 10 plays later, Dixon plunged into the endzone to make the score 24 all after the PAT.

Dixon had his first and second interceptions of the year when he threw an errant pass into the arms of Anthony Felder on Oregon's 21-yard line and three plays later, the Bears hit pay dirt to put Cal back in the lead 31-24. Dixon threw another interception on the next series when Tyson Alualu tipped a toss that would have paid off big dividends for the Ducks had the ball made it to the receiver. Instead, Alualu hauled ball in and rumbled eight yards on what appeared to be the dagger in the Ducks' backside. Not so fast my friend. That Oregon defense came back in and held the Bears to four snaps and a punt but used all its timeouts.

"The turnovers were huge," admitted Bellotti. "That's what we talk about all year long, but that's the undoing of a good football team, and I believe we are a good football team."

The stage was set for an unlikely, made-for-TV finish and the Ducks were more than ready to lend a hand in some memorable fireworks. Dixon executed the two minute offense with perfection and the Ducks moved from their own 23 all the way down to Cal's 5. With just 22 clicks left on the clock Dixon found Colvin who saw daylight and a chance at the goal. Stretching out to push the ball over the goal line, somehow Cal's Marcus Ezeff tapped Colvin's elbow and the ball squirted out, across the goal line and out of bounds.

"You can't do that," said Bellotti of Colvin's attempt. "You have to hang on to the football and break the plane."

Things came to an absolute standstill after Colvin's play. No one was sure if Colvin scored or if he had fumbled the ball out through endzone meaning a Cal touchback. After a couple long minutes, the decision came in. The ball was ruled a touchback and it was just a matter of a knell down to finish the formalities.

"I thought it was across," admitted Colvin of the last play. "I was looking at the refs for the touchdown, but that's how it goes."

It would be hard to lay any blame on Colvin's doorstep for how this game turned out. Since taking over for the injured Brian Paysinger, Colvin has had 15 catches and scored on two long touchdown plays. Plus, while it is easy to sharp shoot someone, but his play was one of effort. Trying to get the ball across the goal line because at that point in the game the clock was draining away.

"My team picked me up said it wasn't my fault," a distraught Colvin said after the game. "We made a lot of errors in this game."

The Oregon defense played an outstanding game, even despite giving up some big plays to Jackson. Walter Thrumond III was the Ducks' leading tackler with 13 (six solo) including two tackles for loss and two break ups. Patrick Chung also had 13 tackles (five solo) and TFL. Matthew Harper turned in 13 tackles (five solo) with Jairus Byrd, Jerome Boyd and Kwame Agyeman recording TFLs. Nick Reed had the sole sack for the day by either team.

Special teams play today was more like a chess-match than a football game. Both the California coaching staff and the Ducks kept the ball away from dangerous return men. Consequently there were plenty of pooch and squib kicks, but nothing booted away and not any big return plays.

"We didn't want to give up a runback," confessed Bellotti. "We gave up some field position, but we didn't give up any long returns. That was the goal. We have respect for DeSean Jackson and all their (California) returners."

Punting remained strong although Josh Syria had one muff of 28 yards that gave Cal excellent field position at the 50 and Cal took advantage of driving the distance for a touchdown making the game 24-17 after the extra point.

The only injury reported by Bellotti after the game was A.J. Tuitele who suffered a broken foot and could be lost optimistically six to eight weeks.

"A.J. is our playmaker," indicated Bllotti of Tuitele. "We are going to miss him. He's one of our captains with his leadership he'll still be a presence out on the field."

Tuitele becomes the second Duck besides Paysinger who will be lost for a considerable amount of the season.

While no loss easy to take, there has to be some silver linings from this contest. The Ducks and Bears proved that Pac-10 football could be as hard-nosed as any conference in the country. If somebody was looking for a nail biting ending, that is exactly what they got on Saturday. There was tough, bone-jarring defense and great offensive plays. Both teams have stars and if anyone think the Pac-10 is a one-team conference (USC) then they weren't watching today.

The Ducks lost because they turned the ball over at crucial times. However, Cal had something to do with placing Oregon into a position of players reaching just a little bit farther to score. It was something one would expect a team that should be in the top-4 next week to be able to do. The Ducks for their part have a lot of football left to play and next week have the week off with a bye. Physically, the bye week comes at a good time, although Bellotti admitted his team would want to get back into competition. They should because today's game a made a statement was made about where Oregon football stacks up in the world of college football.

That statement is pretty positive too because on Saturday at Autzen Stadium, despite the out come for the Ducks and their fans, what happened was about as good as football gets.

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