The Associated Press recap of today's 31-28 loss for Cal against Oregon State carried a nice keyword: "Inexplicably", as in "With his receivers covered, Riley inexplicably tried to scramble for the score."
Among 64,000 fans this evening, we saw Cal charge back in the final minutes to give us hope for today's game after a full regulation of hope mixed with frustration, only to have it "inexplicably" torn away from us, as a freshman backup quarterback, starting his first NCAA game, snuffed out our chances for a national title in one simple misstep.
As I noted this morning, I feared Cal was in for a surprise. They'd ridden high, undefeated so far, to the #2 ranking in all the land. But I felt the emperor had no clothes. As elsewhere, number 1 LSU lost, the chance was there for the Bears to back into the #1 ranking, if they could just hold on and win at home against the Beavers. But they couldn't do it. They were trailing in the first quarter. They led by one point at the half, and fell behind quickly, again, in the 3rd quarter. After a brief 21-20 lead, they watched Oregon State put on 11 points, taking a 31-21 lead, helped along by two critical Cal fumbles, an interception, and a successful goal-line stand by the Beaver defense, which Cal could not match.
As time ran down on the clock, Cal charged back, making it 31-28 with less than three minutes to go. And we got the ball back! At our own 5 yard line, "The Drive" started, as redshirt freshman QB Kevin Riley powered the Bears down the field with the final minutes turning to the final seconds. The end zone was in sight, and if unsuccessful, we could always tack on an easy field goal to send the game to overtime. Right? Wrong. Riley "inexplicably" tried to run for it himself and was stopped well short, when an incomplete pass would have saved the game.
In the space of an afternoon, a story was lost. The hopes of the tens of thousands of us at Memorial Stadium, no doubt compounded by the hundreds of thousands of Cal fans outside the stadium, for the team to reach the #1 position in the country for the first time since our grandparents were roaming the campus, were dashed, "inexplicably", by a bonehead scramble from a poor kid who will likely be thinking of his alternatives for decades to come.
Now, instead of an undefeated team possibly in the BCS hunt for a national title, Cal is one of many 1-loss teams, and falls back into the Pac-10 race, headed for a showdown with USC in early November. While we will, for sure, be cheering our butts off for that game, we've "inexplicably" been forced to lower our hopes and face reality. This wasn't the year.