SAN FRANCISCO - Zack Follett concocted the final pass-rushing move of his California career and slipped past the Miami linemen who taunted him all night. He chased down Jacory Harris from behind, clubbing the ball from the freshman quarterback’s hand with one big swipe.
With just enough of the brains, heart and nerve exemplified by their senior linebacker, the Golden Bears proved there’s no place like 12 miles away from home with a 24-17 victory in the Emerald Bowl on Saturday night.
After Follett forced that turnover deep in Miami territory with 3:28 left, Anthony Miller scored the go-ahead touchdown on his first career catch 47 seconds later. Although the ending was unlikely, with a freshman tight end cradling a perfect pass from a quarterback who was mostly terrible otherwise, the final result was no shock to Cal (9-4).
From Follett to Miller, the Bears were determined to capitalize on the decided home-field advantage provided by a baseball stadium teeming with screaming Cal fans.
“We couldn’t let them come across the country and beat us in our backyard,” said Follett, the defensive player of the game with nine tackles — four for losses — and two sacks. “I came to this park when it was first built. All my heroes in baseball as I was growing up played on this field — Barry Bonds, all of them. I can wear my (championship) ring with pride.”
Jahvid Best rushed for a bowl-record 186 yards and two touchdowns, yet the Golden Bears still needed a big defensive play and an unlikely hero to hold off the Hurricanes (7-6).
Cal quarterback Nate Longshore shook off a dismal 10-for-21 performance in his final game with that scoring pass to Miller as the Golden Bears won for the fifth time in a school-record six consecutive bowl appearances under coach Jeff Tedford.
Miami stayed in it with strong pass defense and a solid game from Harris, who went 25-of-41 for 194 yards and two TDs in his second career start while subbing for the suspended Robert Marve. Harris had won 31 straight starts dating back to his high school career in South Florida, but his fumble cost the Hurricanes in their first bowl game under coach Randy Shannon.
“We felt like if we could get the game into the fourth quarter, we had a chance to win,” Shannon said. “They just made a play that we weren’t capable of making.”
Laron Byrd and Thearon Collier caught Harris’ scoring passes for Miami, which tied it on Matt Bosher’s 22-yard field goal with 9:13 to play.
After Cal’s Giorgio Tavecchio missed a 34-yard field goal with 4:24 left, Follett knocked the ball away from Harris on third down.
“I was trying to get ready to throw the ball out of bounds, and I didn’t see him,” Harris said. “It was a great play by him. I’m kind of sad that I let the senior class down. I wanted to send them out with a bang, and we slipped up on that.”
Cameron Jordan recovered Harris’ fumble and returned it to the Miami 2, where Longshore connected with Miller. He was on the field for just three offensive snaps in the Emerald Bowl, and he could remember only four or five occasions when he was on the field for that play all season long.
“I was just there in case it got tipped, or it went over” Cameron Morrah, the play’s primary receiver, Miller said.
Tedford chose Longshore, the oft-booed senior, to start his final college game instead of Kevin Riley, the Bears’ starter for most of this year and the star of last season’s comeback victory in the Armed Forces Bowl. If Riley is injured, the Bears won’t acknowledge it — and Longshore struggled all the way until his final throw.
“We practice that play probably every day of the year,” Longshore said of his final throw. “I saw (Miller’s) yellow (jersey) flashing across the back of the end zone.”
Marve was among five Miami players suspended in the days leading up to the game for violating team rules, and starting tight end Dedrick Epps was a last-minute scratch from the lineup with a bruised leg. Graig Cooper rushed for 63 yards and Lee Chambers added 60 for Miami, and tight end Craig Zellner made eight catches for 48 yards in Epps’ place.
Bay Area fans clad in blue and gold filled all but a few thousand spots in the sold-out stadium, turning the San Francisco Giants’ waterfront ballpark into a cross-Bay rendition of Strawberry Canyon with a bowl-record crowd of 42,268. The Bears’ campus is just across the water from San Francisco, yet the team stayed in a hotel in the city during its week of preparation, crossing the Bay Bridge for daily practice in Berkeley.
Best finished the season with 1,580 yards rushing, the second-best total in school history. Oregon State freshman Jacquizz Rodgers would need 328 yards in the Sun Bowl against Pittsburgh on Wednesday to overtake Best for the Pac-10 rushing title.
CFT: The University of Miami has come under scrutiny for alleged NCAA infractions, but one unnamed Hurricanes assistant coach says the SEC gets away with far more unreported violations.
CFT: Syracuse confirmed that former quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Don McPherson will have their respective jerseys raised to the Carrier Dome roof this year.
Video: Football from NBC Sports
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