BERKELEY — Marcus Ezeff must have known Oregon was coming to town. The Ducks seem to bring out the playmaking in the Cal safety.
A week before playing Oregon, Ezeff intercepted two passes against UCLA, returning one 69 yards for a touchdown, in a 41-20 victory.
With the Ducks scheduled to visit Memorial Stadium on Saturday, the focus turned to last year's game at Oregon, when Ezeff forced a crucial fumble with time winding down to preserve a 31-24 victory.
Ezeff revisited that play this week, one that at the time seemed to be a moment that could go down as one of the most memorable in Cal history. It helped the Bears move to 5-0 and up to No. 3 in the national rankings.
But Cal couldn't build off of it, instead losing six of its final seven regular-season games to drop out of national and Pac-10 contention.
With Cal leading 31-24, quarterback Dennis Dixon led Oregon on a furious drive, moving the Ducks 77 yards in just over a minute. But with the Ducks at the Cal 5-yard line, Dixon connected with wide receiver Cameron Colvin on a crossing pattern. Colvin sprinted for the left pylon and tried to stretch the ball over the goal line. Ezeff delivered a big hit, knocking the ball out of Colvin's hands before he scored. The ball bounced through the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback.
"They ran a double pick on me and (former Cal cornerback) Brandon Hampton, and I just tried to get on top of it," Ezeff said. "I just saw Cameron Colvin reaching out for the pylon, and I just tried to put a hit on him. I didn't even know he fumbled the ball until (Hampton) told me after the play."
The Bears then had to wait several minutes while the play was reviewed, and it was finally ruled a touchback. Cal ran out the clock to polish off the win.
"I remember the great hustle and the desire to get there," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "It would have been very easy for him to just throw his hands up and say, 'I got picked.'"" He didn't give up on the play. He ran over the top and sprinted to it and made a huge play. It's the 100 percent effort that he gave on that play that I will always remember."
Practice makes perfect
It's not exactly a sexy matchup, but Saturday's game will feature two of the best centers in the country in Cal's Alex Mack and Oregon's Max Unger. Both are on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's top center. Mack was a finalist for the award last year.
Cal nose tackle Derrick Hill says he's looking forward to the individual matchup with Unger.
"Going against him is going to be a great experience," Hill said. "I go against the greatest center in the nation right now, so I feel pretty confident going into this game."
Mack has been named a finalist for the Draddy Trophy, given annually to the top football scholar-athlete in the country. As a finalist, Mack will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. The winner will be announced at a special ceremony Dec. 9 in New York. ... Linebacker Zack Follett has been named one of 20 quarterfinalists for the Lott Trophy, given to a player who exhibits superior athletic performance and strong personal characteristics. ... Right tackles Chet Teofilo (ankle) and Matt Laird (shoulder) have yet to practice this week, and it appears junior college transfer Donovan Edwards will make his first career start against Oregon. ... Tedford said defensive end Rulon Davis has started running on a treadmill as he rehabs from a leg injury suffered Sept. 27 against Colorado State. Tedford said Davis still is a few weeks away from playing, but "he'll definitely be back this year at some point."
— Jonathan Okanes