Ratto: Cal's Upset Dream Sails Wide Right

November 14, 2010, 5:47 am
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Nov. 13, 2010RATTO ARCHIVECALPAGERay RattoCSNBayArea.com

GiorgioTavecchio couldnt wipe his face hard enough; the memory wasnt on hisface, after all, but burned in his brain. He had looked history in theface, and blinked.Twice, in fact. The field goal he made to give Cal a 16-15 lead overOregon on the first play of the fourth quarter was wiped out because hestutter-stepped his approach, and he then yanked the 29-yard make-goodattempt, leaving the top-ranked Ducks a 15-13 winner and the GoldenBears senior kicker seeking out the parallel universe in which the24-yarder and the lead it would have produced holds up.This was in many ways Cals finest moment in a difficult season --resisting the irresistible force that is the Oregon offense for all butone play, and coming as close as the distance between hairs to throwingthe Pac-10, the BCS and college football into a rich and deliciouschaos.Plus, making themselves bowl eligible as a bonus, and sparking (if youwant to call it that) the Brock Mansion Era with the upset of theseason.Instead, there was Tavecchio, trying to wipe his face completely off the front of his head on a night that will never ever end.As a kicker, you have to have a pretty short memory, he saidafterward, not quite morose but close to it. But Ill have this onefor awhile. I needed to be there for my teammates.The initial problem was that Tavecchio couldnt hear the snap count,which caused him to anticipate the ball arriving before it did. Thatcaused the illegal motion penalty that took his 24-yard kill shot andmade it a 29-yard kill shot.Except . . .
The second one, I could feel my heartbeat racing a little bit, he said, but I took some deep breaths and got my focus back.And pulled the kick right. He threw his arms up to signal that the kickwas good trying to give it the old Carlton Fisk, as it were -- but theball stayed stubbornly right. And the game stayed stubbornly Oregons,with the concomitant taste of bile lodged in the throats of the GoldenBears.Were frustrated, angry, disappointed, senior safety Chris Contesaid. All of the Pac-10 can take notes off this (the way the Bearsdefended).Yes, and the team the Ducks will face in the BCS game they have all butguaranteed themselves. Everyone in the college football world will getfat off the way Cal starved Saturday night.
Coach Jeff Tedford offered little solace there, either. Not for himself, not for the players, and not for Tavecchio.The defense played its hearts out, he said, no question about it. Its a shame, its shame. I feel sick for the kids.His queasiness was a bit different when it came to the kicker, though.There was no excuse for it, he said, We kick field goals every day,and theres no excuse for jumping the gun like that. Its poise underpressure, and we didnt have it right there.Tedford is not normally one to leave a harsh player assessment hangingwithout a qualifier of some sort, but he had seen his defense do whatnobody else has done to the Ducks all year, and he was close enough tofinishing the deal. He not only wanted this game, he knew (as fewothers did) that it was there to be had.You can try to find something to come out of this, he said when askedthe traditional moral victory question, but it hurts even worse toplay like this and come away with a loss. When you put your hearts andsouls into something and perform as well as we did and not win . . .theres really no consolation.It wasnt all Tavecchios doing, of course. He kept thinking that theremight be a chance for redemption, given that his miss still left 14:52on the clock. But Cal only got the ball for another 2:06 and never gotcloser than their own 46. Oregon may not have scored , but it held theball for the final 9:25, which was just enough to get just enough.Now Cal preps for Stanford and the Almost Big Game this comingSaturday. This would have been the Big Game right here, the toppling ofthe iron colossus, but a half-step here, a pulled place-kick there . .. and you end up with a mouth full of soot that resists all attempts atrinsing.Especially for Giorgio Tavecchio, and the moment that was, and then wasnt.
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