EUGENE, Ore. -- History may show this was the weekend that changed everything for Cal's football program.
The No. 6 Bears notched what is arguably their biggest win in Jeff Tedford's six years as coach with an as-good-as-advertised 31-24 win over No. 11 Oregon at Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
The implications for Cal could be felt from as far as Tampa and Gainesville, Fla., and Boulder, Colo., where upsets helped push Cal squarely into the Bowl Championship Series picture.
With No. 5 West Virginia losing to South Florida on Friday, and No. 3 Oklahoma falling to Colorado and No. 4 Florida losing to Auburn on Saturday, the Bears (5-0) figure to move up to No. 3 in next week's Associated Press top 25, behind USC and LSU. And considering that Cal now can cross off one of the tougher games on its schedule this year, the prospects for the rest of the season seem limitless.
"We knew our season was riding on this game," Cal middle linebacker Worrell Williams said. "This was the season. West Virginia fell off and Oklahoma fell off. All we had to do was win. It wasn't easy, but we got it done."
As difficult as it is for opponents to win at Oregon (this was the Bears' first victory here in 20 years), Cal's biggest obstacles this season figured to be against Tennessee, UCLA and USC. But the Ducks had been one of the nation's biggest surprises early on with an explosive offense that came in ranked seventh nationally in scoring (48.5 ppg) and total yards (536.8 ypg).
Although Oregon (4-1) amassed 497 yards, this wasn't the high-octane shootout most observers expected. Oregon led 10-3 at halftime and 17-10 at the end of the third quarter.
But behind a breakout game from wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns), more clutch running by Justin Forsett, and a few pivotal forced turnovers by the defense, Cal pulled ahead and then escaped after the Ducks had a first-and-goal at the Bears' 5-yard line with 22 seconds left.
"Everyone was trying to say it was going to be a shootout, and the reason why we were going to lose the game was because of our defense," Williams said. "We came away with three turnovers and made some big stops."
The Bears forced turnovers on each of Oregon's final three possessions. None was bigger than the one that came with the Ducks on the cusp of a game-tying score. Cal had already turned back one potential game-tying drive when defensive tackle Mika Kane tipped a pass by Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon that was intercepted by Tyson Alualu deep in Bears' territory.
After Cal was forced to punt, the Ducks took over at their own 23 with 1:45 left and marched to the Bears' 5-yard line on eight plays.
After a Cal timeout, Dixon completed a pass to De La Salle High School graduate Cameron Colvin, who lunged toward the end zone on the sideline. Cal safety Marcus Ezeff delivered a hit that jarred the ball loose, and it rolled out of the side of the end zone for a touchback.
The Bears waited impatiently as the play went through video review, but replays showed Colvin clearly fumbled before reaching the end zone.
"I was pretty nervous (waiting for the replay ruling), to tell you the truth," said Ezeff, who was flagged for a late hit in the second quarter that kept a touchdown drive alive for the Ducks. "I was just sitting over there kind of having a heart attack. But looking at the replay (on the video board), it was kind of easy to see it was a fumble."
The Bears sideline erupted when referee Jack Wood announced that the play stood, and quarterback Nate Longshore took a knee to clinch the victory. Several players jumped into the stands to celebrate with the Cal contingent on hand, and a good majority of Oregon fans simply watched in stunned silence.