Cal lost a football game Saturday that all but guaranteed it will have to settle once again for a midlevel bowl game this season. But that just didn't seem all that important as the night wore on.
A 31-14 loss to Oregon State in front of 56,496 at Memorial Stadium was delayed 13 minutes in the second quarter, after star tailback Jahvid Best was knocked cold at the end of a 7-yard touchdown run. Best ultimately was wheeled off the field on a stretcher as a solemnly quiet crowd watched.
After being run through a series of tests at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Best was diagnosed with a severe concussion.
"Unbelievably scary," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "There's always great concern for any player on the field like that. Our prayers go with him overnight as a team to make sure that he recovers fine."
Cal was trailing 14-0, when Best took the direct snap out of the Wildcat formation with 6:07 left in the first half and took off with a full head of steam toward the left corner of the end zone. Oregon State cornerback Tim Clark closed in on Best just as he approached the goal line, and Best tried to leap over him.
As Best soared through the air, Beavers safety Cameron Collins came over and hit Best cleanly from the side, forcing him approximately five feet above the turf. Best flipped over in the air and landed hard on his back and head, his helmet flying off in the process. His neck snapped back after impact, and he immediately went motionless, his body stiff.
It was apparent right away that Best's injury was serious. Several members of Cal's training staff rushed around the sidelines to fetch equipment, and members of Cal's athletic department huddled around as the trainers worked on him. Cal's entire roster formed a semicircle near Best before he was finally wheeled off covered with a blanket and wearing an oxygen mask.
"I went over to him and saw his face and nobody was there," Cal fullback Brian Holley said. "I saw a blank stare. His arms were stiff. He wasn't moving."
Tedford said Best was initially unconscious but eventually woke up and was able to move all of his extremities. Tedford got updates on Best's condition throughout the game, and all tests came back negative.
"I looked at Jahvid's face and it was kind of a blank stare," Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said. "Anybody goes down like that, it's not a good situation. It was a scary picture. His eyes were just a blank stare, and he was trying to breathe."
Before play resumed, Tedford gathered the team together to inform them Best was moving his arms and legs, and that it looked as though he would be all right. Cal's players tried to use the injury as motivation.
"We all felt inspired to play for Jahvid," Holley said. "We felt like we needed to lift ourselves up as a team and a family to overcome adversity, like we know Jahvid would want us to do. It was hard to go on without him. You stay focused on the rest of the game, but it's still in the back of your head, wondering if he's all right."
When the game finally continued, nothing much changed. The Bears were dominated on both sides of the ball before the injury, and it continued. Cal once again failed to demonstrate it could move the ball on the ground against a stout run defense, and it couldn't balance out the offense with the passing game.
The Bears rushed for just 39 yards on 24 carries, and Riley was 19-for-34 for 200 yards and a touchdown. He also was picked off for the third time this year.
"We couldn't run the football," Tedford said. "We couldn't make plays in the passing game. We just didn't execute. It's plain and simple."
The Bears slowed Oregon State tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, who entered the night as the 14th-ranked rusher in the nation (115.2 yards per game). Rodgers was held to just 67 yards on 25 carries.
But the Beavers made the plays in the passing game that the Bears could not. Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield was 29-for-39 for 342 yards and two touchdowns.
"You are going to have games where the defense is stuffing the run," Canfield said. "That just means you have to make some throws down the field in the passing game, and we did that."
Best's touchdown culminated a laborious 15-play, 81-yard drive that gave the Bears some momentum. But the Beavers immediately answered with an 11-play touchdown drive of their own to lead 21-7 at the half.
Riley was intercepted on Cal's first drive of the second half, and then the Bears went three-and-out on three of their next four possessions. By that time, Oregon State had taken a 31-7 lead.
"We got out-coached today," Tedford said. "We got outplayed in every phase of the game. Give credit to Oregon State. They played great and we didn't."