Washington running back Chris Polk left Cal without any time Saturday. As a result, the Bears now will have plenty of time on their hands.
Polk scored on a 1-yard touchdown run as time expired, lifting the Huskies to a 16-13 victory in front of 44,613 at dreary Memorial Stadium. The loss prevented Cal from advancing to a bowl game for the first time since 2002. The Bears finished the season at 5-7 (3-6 Pac-10), their first losing season in Jeff Tedford's nine years as coach.
Rather than a handful of extra practices in preparation for a bowl game, the Bears suddenly have some time they aren't used to getting in December.
"I really don't know," Tedford said when asked what he will do with the extra freedom. "It's been a long time. I'm not going to be happy about it, I can tell you that. I'm not going to be in a very good mood for the next months. But we need to get back to work right away. It's not vacation time. It's work time, and that's how we're going to proceed."
Despite a wretched offensive performance, the Bears were in position to make their eighth straight bowl appearance after Giorgio Tavecchio booted a 47-yard field goal with 10:53 remaining that broke a 10-10 tie. Tavecchio, much-maligned all season for a handful of key misses, also made a career-high 53-yarder as time expired in the first half to give Cal a 3-0 lead.
It looked like that might be enough for Cal's defense, which shut down Washington quarterback Jake Locker and the Huskies' offense for most of the game.
But the visitors got the ball back on their own 21 with 4:39 left, and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse kept the drive alive with a diving catch with cornerback Darian Hagan draped all over him for a 46-yard gain that put the ball at the Cal 20. From there, the Huskies got to 1st-and-goal at the 7.
Locker gained six yards on a quarterback draw for second-and-goal from the 1, then he was stopped for no gain on back-to-back sneaks. That set up fourth down, and after running the clock down to :02, Washington called time out and decided to go for the win.
"We're aggressive," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We've been aggressive since I got here, and we're not going to change."
Polk scored easily on what turned out to be the final play of the game, setting off a wild celebration by the Huskies in the south end zone. The win kept Washington's bowl hopes alive -- it can advance to the postseason with a win over Washington State next weekend.
The Bears were left having to make the long walk to the tunnel behind the north end zone, trying to digest the abrupt end to the season.
"I sort of went numb for a second," said Cal senior defensive end Cameron Jordan, who scored the Bears' only touchdown on a 21-yard fumble recovery in the third quarter. "I looked at the clock and realized there was no time left, no time for our offense. I went numb and realized that was the end of my Cal career."
Running back Shane Vereen rushed for 106 yards on 23 carries in what could have been his final game at Cal. The junior may make himself available for the NFL Draft. If he does, he'll leave ranked No. 7 on Cal's career rushing list with 2,834 yards. He finished this season with 1,167 yards, the ninth-best single-season mark in school history.
"I don't have any idea about that right now," Vereen said.
The Bears put an emphasis on their running game, asking quarterback Brock Mansion to throw only when necessary. Mansion, making his fourth start in a row after the season-ending injury to Kevin Riley, was 12-for-23 for 92 yards and an interception.
Tedford said the game plan was not an indictment of Mansion and the passing attack.
"It is more that we had confidence in the run game and felt like that would be a good match up against them," he said. "We did get positive yards quite a bit of the time in the run game. I don't think it's any surprise that with Shane and those guys that the run game is our strength. We didn't make enough plays in the passing game."
Despite Mansion starting the last four games, Tedford said the slate will be wiped clean at quarterback for the offseason. The Bears are expected to have six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster next season -- Mansion, sophomore Beau Sweeney, Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard, redshirt freshman Allan Bridgford, true freshman Austin Hinder and incoming freshman Kyle Boehm.
"It's going to be competitive with all of those guys," Tedford said.