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Cal Comes Up Two Yards Short in Agonizing Loss to No. 9 Oregon

Chase Garbers' outstanding ad-lib play goes for naught in the most frustrating loss in a season of frustrating close losses

Cal’s final possession Friday night began with 4:50 left and lasted 18 plays and ate up all but two seconds of the remaining time, looking more and more like it would result in a historic drive.

It covered 73 yards, included one of the best plays you will ever see a Golden Bears quarterback make, and came agonizingly close to setting up a critical coaching decision about whether the Bears would go for two points and a win or one point to push the game into overtime.

It never reached that point. The possession was halted two yards short of becoming a historic drive.

“Very frustrating, extremely frustrating,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said afterward in the video atop this story. “I don’t know what adjective to use. It’s very frustrating.”

So Cal lost 24-17 to No. 9 Oregon at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.

---Click here for a game summary of the key plays---

So Cal did not end the nation’s longest active home winning streak, which the Ducks (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) extended to 16 in a row.

So Cal did not get its first road win over a top-10 since beating No. 10 Indiana in Bloomington in 1969.

So Cal (1-5, 0-3) remained without a Pac-12 win this season and without a win over an FBS team.

So Cal again came up just short, adding a frustrating loss to a series of frustrating losses.

The Bears had lost to Washington 31-24 when Cal running back Damien Moore fumbled at the 1-yard line in overtime.

Cal had lost to TCU by two points when special teams mistakes doomed the Bears.

The Bears had lost to Nevada by five points after letting an early 14-0 lead slip away.

“We’re right there each and every time,” Cal quarterback Chase Garbers said.

But this may have been the most frustrating of them all. The Bears got so close, and a win against the No. 9 team at perhaps the toughest venue on the West Coast could have turned around Cal’s season -- if the Bears had scored on that last drive.

A lot went on before the final fateful Cal possession, of course.

Cal forced two turnovers and did not turn the ball over at all, quite an accomplishment against an Oregon team that came into the game boasting a plus-11 turnover margin, among the best in the country.

Oregon running back Travis Dye, getting a heavy workload with leading rusher CJ Verdell out for the season, ran for 145 yards and caught seven passes for 73 more yards.

Cal running back Christopher Brooks had 68 rushing yards in his best game of the year, and the Bears put themselves in position to pull off the upset by taking a 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, thanks to a tidy, 80-yard touchdown drive that had silenced the normally loud Autzen Stadium crowd.

The Ducks responded by scoring two quick touchdowns to take a 24-17 lead and seemed to be in control.

But that all merely served to set the stage for the final Cal possession.

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Garbers finished 25-for-43 for 247 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and he expertly directed Cal down the field as the clock ticked under four minutes.

A 21-yard completion to Jeremiah Hunter, who finished with 78 receiving yards, got the drive going, and a defensive holding call on a fourth-down play enabled the Bears to keep the ball at the Ducks’ 38-yard line as the clock slipped under three minutes.

Brooks runs of 10 and 11 yards, and a 10-yard Garbers run helped push the ball to the Oregon 14-yard line, where the Bears had a first down with 50 seconds left. A defensive holding penalty gave Cal a first-and-3 at the 7-yard line with 38 seconds to go.

The next three plays netted minus-1 yard, so Cal faced fourth-and-4 from the 8-yard line with 22 seconds remaining. That’s when Garbers pulled off the play of the day.

He stepped up in the pocket to try to escape a strong pass rush and was being taken down by Oregon’s star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. But just before he hit the ground, Garbers flipped a backhand pass to Kekoa Crawford, who caught it for a first down at the 3-yard line.

“Whether I kicked it up in the air or threw it backward, I had to get the ball out to somebody in the vicinity somewhere,” Garbers said.

“Just a helluva play by Chase,” Wilcox said.

Garbers then spiked the ball (controversy on that play is revealed in a video at the bottom of this story). He  threw an incompletion on second down to Nikko Remigio, who nearly caught the pass for a touchdown, and Garbers ran for one yard to set up fourth down at the 2-yard line with five seconds left.

After a timeout, Garbers faded back, but got tremendous pressure up the middle and rolled to his right. His pass into the end zone was not near any receiver.

And the game was over.

As Cal had been moving toward a potential touchdown on that drive, TV commentator Kirk Morrison said he was certain Cal would go for two points and the win if it scored rather than kick the extra point and head to overtime.

So Wilcox was asked what he would have done if Cal had scored.

“What does it matter?” he said. “I hate to be short. I’m just saying it doesn’t matter anymore. The game’s over; we didn’t get it done.”

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One other issue arose Saturday based on a video that was tweeted below. This presumably occurred on the Bears' first-and-goal play from the 3-yard line with 16 seconds left. Garbers spiked the ball on that play. 

Cover photo of Chase Garbers by Jaime Valdez, USA TODAY Sports

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Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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