COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Even Brendan Bigelow's breakout performance couldn't lift Cal past Braxton Miller and No. 12 Ohio State on Saturday afternoon.
Bigelow, who had carried the ball just twice in two previous games, ran for second-half touchdowns of 81 and 59 yards, but Miller got the last word in a 35-28 Buckeyes' victory.
His fourth touchdown pass of the day, a 72-yarder to Devin Smith on a busted coverage with 3:26 left, allowed Ohio State (3-0) to avoid its first loss to Cal since the Jan. 1, 1921 Rose Bowl.
And it sent the Bears home aching over what might have been.
"It's discouraging for sure because we came here to win the football game, and we played well enough most of the day to do it," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "But the scoreboard doesn't say it, and that's all that matters."
"Everybody's upset," running back Isi Sofele said. "They walked away with a win that we should have had."
Well, maybe. Senior cornerback Steve Williams wasn't letting his team off the hook,
"We've got a lot of heart, but we've got to finish games," he said.
A victory could have been a huge lift for the Bears (1-2), who were unimpressive in their first two games and hit the road again next week to face No. 2 USC.
Bigelow, who had 160 yards on just four carries, sparked a second-half comeback from a 20-7 hole. The sophomore's 81-yard third-quarter burst was the longest run ever against the Buckeyes in Columbus, and his 59-yarder tied the score at 28-all with 8:10 left.
Cal missed a chance to take the lead when junior Vincenzo D'Amato was wide left on a 42-yard field goal with 4:20 left --- his third miss from that distance on Saturday.
Tedford said it was an easy decision to go for the field goal instead of the first down on a fourth-and-1 play from the 25 late in a tie game.
"I had confidence. Vince had missed a couple to the left, but typically he gets that squared away," Tedford said. "It just didn't happen today."
Three plays later, Smith slipped down the right sideline, left alone by Cal's zone alignment, and Miller found him for the winning TD.
"We needed a safety over the top. He (Alex Logan) came running up, the quarterback threw it, and it was a touchdown," Tedford said.
Cal had one more shot, but Zach Maynard's pass to Keenan Allen sailed high and was intercepted by Christian Bryant with 1:09 left to the delight of 105,232 fans at Ohio Stadium.
The Bears easily played their best game of the season, outgaining the Buckeyes 512 yards to 412, forging a 22-14 edge in first downs and a 10-minute time-of-possession advantage.
They had just four penalties -- although one of them erased a 57-yard TD pass from Maynard to C.J. Anderson midway through the second period -- and just one turnover.
Maynard delivered one of his better games, going 26 for 37 for 280 yards, throwing one touchdown and running for another. "Zach played very well today," Tedford said.
Bigelow wound up with 160 yards on four second-half carries to spark a running game that was held to net zero yards in the second quarter. The 81-yarder, in which he spun away from defenders twice, somehow kept his balance, then sprinted to the end zone, had his teammates buzzing.
"He pressed the turbo button," Sofele said.
But the Buckeyes had their own big-play guy in Miller, and he made the difference. The sophomore quarterback threw TD passes of 25, 1, 3 and 72 yards and ran 55 yards for a score while totaling 324 yards rushing and passing.
"He's a wonderful player, one of the best in the nation," Cal cornerback Marc Anthony said. "He came through when they needed him to."
With USC looming, the Bears feel like they created some momentum and self-belief.
"We showed it to everybody -- we can play with anybody in the nation," Anthony said. "It's frustrating to lose any game at the last second on a mental error."
But Williams shrugged off the suggestion the Bears finally played to their capabilities. "If we would have won the game, yeah, I'd say we played up to our potential," he said. "We've still got to go out and get a victory against a big team."
-- Tedford did not say whether he would consider a change at placekicker after D'Amato's 0-for-3 day on field goals. "I don't want to put (the loss) on Vince. It's a team effort," he said.
Maynard declined to question the decision to try the final field goal and was supportive of his teammate. "We believe in Vince," he said. "He can get the job done."
D'Amato has made 12 of 13 PAT kicks this season, but now is just 4 for 8 on field goal tries. Cal has no other eligible kicker who has played in a college game.
-- Ohio State sacked Maynard six times for losses totaling 50 yards. Despite that, Cal finished with 224 net rushing yards against an OSU defense that was allowing just 51 yards per game.
-- Junior tight end Spencer Hagan injured his right knee in the third quarter and taken off the field by a cart. Tedford did not have details on the injury, but said, "Initial report didn't sound good."
Sophomore tight end Richard Rodgers (foot), listed late in the week as probable, did not play.
-- The Bears made a lineup switch , going with redshirt freshman Jalen Jefferson and sophomore Nick Forbes at inside linebacker in place of seniors Robert Mullins and J.P. Hurrell. It was the first career start for both.
-- Ohio State improved to 6-1 all-time vs. Cal in the first meeting between the two schools since 1972. The Bears were 3-0 previously under Tedford in road games vs. Big Ten teams.