TUCSON, Ariz. -- The brilliant defensive performance. The slew of untimely Arizona penalties. The ability to wear an opposing defense down.
None of that matter Saturday night after Cal suffered one of the most painful losses in coach Jeff Tedford's era, 10-9 in front of 51,906 at Arizona Stadium.
The Bears held the Wildcats' potent spread offense in check for almost the entire game, but Arizona quarterback Nick Foles connected with wide receiver Juron Criner for a 51-yard pass play with under two minutes remaining. Three plays later, it was Foles hooking up with Criner again for a 3-yard scoring pass, the only touchdown of the game to give the Wildcats the winning points with 1:11 left.
Cal got three field goals from kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, but he also missed two, including a 40-yard attempt with under three minutes left that would have given the Bears a 12-3 lead.
After Arizona took the lead, Cal still got the ball back with 1:06 remaining. A couple of pass plays put the ball at the Bears' 40 and it appeared they had a chance to get one last chance for Tavecchio to redeem himself. But wide receiver Marvin Jones had a pass from quarterback Kevin Riley bounce off of him and into the hands of Arizona safety Joseph Perkins for a game-clinching interception. Perkins actually fumbled the ball during the return but it was recovered by Wildcats cornerback Robert Golden.
"It hurts bad," said Cal safety Chris Conte, who led the Bears with eight tackles and had an interception. "I've never been part of a football game that hurts more than this one, not in my life."
The Bears, coming off an embarrassing defensive performance last week in a 52-31 loss at Nevada, almost pulled off the upset of the 14th-ranked Wildcats, partly because of their own defensive merits and partly because Arizona committed 10 penalties for 99 yards, with each seemingly coming at inopportune times.
The Bears won't be able to enjoy the bounce-back performance by the defense, which was shredded by the Wolf Pack last week. Arizona, which entered the game ranked 13th nationally in scoring (42.3 ppg) and riding high after a benchmark win over Iowa last week, had just 311 yards of offense, 77 on the final possession. The Wildcats and quarterback Nick Foles had just 212 yards passing, well below their 330.2 yards per game average, which was, sixth in the nation.
"It's disappointing. I thought the guys played hard," Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. "They executed what we practiced all week. There are no moral victories. I told the guys all week that this game would come down to the last drive and Arizona made the plays in the end."
Arizona set a frustrating tone for coach Mike Stoops in the first half with a spate of significant mistakes. The Wildcats drove deep into Cal's territory on the second possession of the game, but a holding call and a personal foul on right tackle Phillip Garcia pushed Arizona out of field goal range and it was forced to punt. On the Wildcats next possession, Foles fumbled after being chased down by defensive end Cameron Jordan and it was recovered by linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
The Bears took advantage of the turnover to get the first of Tavecchio's field goals. On the first play of the ensuing possession, Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed was flagged for roughing the passer to move the ball to the Wildcats 12.
The Wildcats helped Cal again later in the second quarter with a crucial personal foul on third down, giving the Bears an automatic first down at their own 41. The drive culminated with a 40-yard field goal from Tavecchio, his longest of the season.
A pass interference penalty on cornerback Darian Hagan gave the Wildcats the ball at the Cal 13-yard line with just under a minute left in the first half, but cornerback Marc Anthony made a nice play in the end zone, tipping a pass intended for Arizona wide receiver David Douglas that wound up in the arms of Conte for an interception and touchback.
Arizona continued with the miscues in the second half. The Wildcats were called for an illegal substitution on their second possession of the third quarter to set up a long third down. A holding call and intentional grounding pinned them back on the next drive.
Arizona linebacker R.J. Young was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct midway through the third quarter to help put the Bears in field goal range, but Tavecchio's 33-yard field goal attempt clanked off the left upright.
The Bears were clinging to a 6-3 lead early in the fourth quarter when they drove to get a first down at Arizona's 15. But three running plays brought up fourth-and-one, and they had to settle for Tavecchio's third field goal of the game, this time from 23 yards.
Running back Shane Vereen rushed for 102 yards on 27 carries, including substantial gains late in the game when it looked as though the Bears were wearing the Wildcats down. But twice in the red zone, the Bears played it conservatively and kept the ball on the ground, settling for field goal attempts instead of trying for the end zone.
Notes: Vereen went over the 2,000-yard mark in career rushing yards. "... When Tavecchio nailed his first field goal early in the second quarter, it marked the first time Arizona trailed all season. "... Wide receiver Keenan Allen played sparingly for the second straight game, catching just one pass for nine yards.
UCLA (2-2) at Cal (2-2), TBA