COLUMBUS, Ohio — It took Brendan Bigelow 21 seconds to make the Cal faithful believe on Saturday.
It only took Vince D’Amato a few seconds to bring Ohio Stadium back to life.
On the heels of Bigelow’s 59-yard touchdown run to tie the game in the fourth quarter and an Ohio State interception, the Cal football team’s junior kicker lined up 42 yards out and missed his third field goal try of the game.
On the ensuing possession, Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller threw a 72-yard touchdown pass to put his team up for good. The Bears had three-plus minutes to drive 75 yards and tie the game, but Zach Maynard threw an interception to seal the deal. Final score: Ohio State 35, Cal 28.
“It’s discouraging for sure,” said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. “We came here to win the football game. We played well enough most of the day to do that. The scoreboard didn’t say that.”
Following a weak effort last week against FCS school Southern Utah, the Bears (1-2) nearly upset No. 12 Ohio State in front of 105,232 fans at the Horseshoe.
After giving up 20 points to the Buckeyes (3-0) in the first half, Cal’s defense kept them quiet right until the end. Bigelow, meanwhile, made his presence loud and clear.
The third-string running back spun his way 81 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter to cut the deficit to six.
“When I initially tok the handoff, I was only thinking, ‘Get around the corner as fast as you can,’” Bigelow said. “I was always thinking, ‘Stay on your feet and keep running.’”
Maynard and company began the fourth quarter in Ohio State’s territory. At the 23-yard line, Cal failed on a third-down conversion but the Buckeyes were offsides on the play, giving the Bears another chance. Maynard made them pay, finding Keenan Allen up the middle for a first down. Soon, the roles were reversed — Maynard threw a screen to Allen, who tossed the ball back to the quarterback for an eight-yard gain. From there, it took the Bears two plays to get into the end zone and take a one-point lead.
Miller and the Buckeyes struck right back, driving the length of the field for a touchdown. But Bigelow came to Cal’s rescue once again. Following a 16-yard rush, the sophomore ran 59 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 28-28.
It looked like the game would come down to the Bears’ defense, but Miller uncharacteristically threw an interception, which Steve Williams returned to Ohio State’s 44 yard line. Even though D’Amato had already missed two field goals, Tedford had no reservations about sending him out for a third try.
“It was a tied football game,” Tedford said. “We were looking to go ahead. The defense had been playing great in second half.
“At that point in the game, you’re there to go ahead.”
Miller only needed about three minutes to lead the Buckeyes to the game-winning score. The 72-yarder was one of numerous big plays for the Ohio State offense.
But the Bears’ offense matched it right until the end. Other than Bigelow’s bursts, Cal’s offense was relatively balanced, with Maynard — who threw 26-of-37 for 280 yards with one touchdown — looking poised until the last-minute pick.
After Miller ran 55 yards for the first touchdown of the game, the Bears responded immediately. Isi Sofele got stuck in a scrum but managed to break a few tackles before finding the open field for a 26-yard gain. After a 18-yard completion to Allen, Maynard found freshman receiver Chris Harper for a 19-yard touchdown.
That lead — Ohio State missed its extra point — lasted all of one minute and 27 seconds. Miller completed two passes for 65 yards for a quick score to retake the lead.
After going the entire first quarter without a flag, the Bears saw their second drive of the second quarter marred by penalties. A hold called back a touchdown and an unnecessary roughness call sent Cal out of the red zone. A common thread throughout the game, it was a missed opportunity that led to a missed field goal.
“It was all there,” Sofele said. “We just made too many penalties.”
But, said the senior running back, Cal did win something on Saturday: respect.
Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at email@example.com