ARIZONA STATE QUARTERBACK Rudy Carpenter hobbled out of Memorial Stadium on crutches Saturday with his wounded left foot in a protective boot.
Hey, at least he was alive.
An hour earlier, Carpenter got absolutely drilled into the midfield turf — and his foot got wrenched — courtesy of Cal linebacker Zack Follett's blind-side sack.
And you thought those trees in the oak grove fell hard.
That play, in essence, secured Cal's 24-14 win. That play, in general, typified how tremendous the Golden Bears defense came through in third-down situations against Carpenter and the Sun Devils' high-powered offense.
But out of all the interceptions, sacks, fumbles and perfectly defended passes Cal's defense delivered on third down, Follett's hit deserves play-of-the-game honors.
For one thing, it was long overdue. And not just because it's the most crushing blow the senior leader has delivered since last season's opening-series sack of Tennessee's Erik Ainge.
Follett was out to avenge last year's 31-20 loss at Tempe, which he recalled as, "The most disrespected I've ever been in any stadium." He claimed his parents were spit on, and that his mother reminded him of that going into Saturday's rematch.
Follett hadn't forgotten that, nor all of Carpenter's taunts toward him in that 2007 matchup.
"He would say, 'Zack, you're so close. Zack,
Follett got Carpenter at the perfect time Saturday.
The Sun Devils trailed just the 10 points, had driven to Cal's 44-yard line and Carpenter dropped back to pass on third-and-six. As Carpenter rolled right, here came Follett, and to best describe the ensuing scene, here's Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan to explain:
"I had a (offensive) tackle stood up, I saw Zack make contact and I might literally have stopped playing and just watched," Jordan said. "I told the offensive lineman, 'You're quarterback just died.'
"If you guys could have seen the pain, his face when he got hit, it was the funniest thing in the world."
Well, funny in the sense that Cal's defense just made a tremendous play that fell in line with what happened on so many other third-down situations Saturday.
Watching Carpenter exit the stadium wasn't a humorous scene. Here was the Pac-10's passing leader leaving on crutches, with his worried parents waiting outside the locker room and asking coach Dennis Erickson for the doctor's diagnosis.
Erickson did his best to calm them down and downplayed the injury, saying it might not keep Carpenter out for more than a week. (Remember the days when Erickson had to answer to disgruntled 49ers owner John York instead of just the parents of an injured student athlete?)
Carpenter's injury certainly doesn't boost Arizona State's chances of ending a three-game losing streak next weekend at USC. Thus, Follett's sack just might prove critical in Cal's quest to eventually place ahead of Arizona State, which tied with USC atop the Pac-10 last year.
Other Cal defenders came through with sensational plays, too, of course. That made the game easier to manage for Cal quarterback Nate Longshore upon his reinstatement as starter.
Jordan had two big sacks on third downs in the first half. Chris Conte and Sean Cattouse made interceptions on third downs in the second half. Cornerbacks Darian Hagan and Syd'Quan Thompson produced big plays, too.
"It was always third-and-long," said Erickson, whose offense was 4-of-16 on third downs. "There were a few times we made plays, but they're a good defense."
Asked if Follett came in unblocked, Erickson said in deadpan fashion: "He beat a guy, like he was free."
"Once I saw that ball fly, it felt good," said Follett, whose sack forced a fumble that Arizona State recovered at its 41. "It was a long time coming since last year. He said some things in my ear last year.
"A year of frustration was let out on that play."
A few minutes after sharing those thoughts with the media, Follett hugged Cal coach Jeff Tedford in the middle of the press conference room.
"You got him," Tedford told him proudly.
"I got him," Follett responded with a huge smile.
Getting him on crutches, of course, wasn't the intent. Holding serve at home for a Pac-10 win was atop the agenda. But getting some revenge for last year's game certainly didn't hurt Cal or Follett, even if it really hurt Carpenter.
Contact Cam Inman at email@example.com.