Sept. 12, 2009
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - Eastern Washington managed to hang close with No. 10 California for one quarter. Then the bigger, faster, more talented Golden Bears took over and turned the game into the mismatch it was supposed to be.
Jahvid Best rushed for 144 yards and scored two touchdowns to make sure California avoided a letdown against Eastern Washington with a 59-7 victory Saturday.
Best caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Riley in the first half and scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter, turning a 10-point lead into a blowout. Riley also ran for a touchdown and Shane Vereen had three short TD runs as Cal (2-0) posted its second straight blowout to open the season.
"After the first half we were a little dissatisfied with ourselves and the way we had came out," Vereen said. "So we really wanted to start fast in the third quarter and see where it took us. We definitely feel better about the second half. I think we came out with a little bit more focus and determination."
The Bears scored the final 52 points after the game was tied at 7 after the first quarter. They ran for 342 yards, didn't turn the ball over for a second straight week and completely overwhelmed the Eagles (1-1).
After starting off with a 52-13 victory over a Maryland team that handed the Bears their first loss last season, Cal remained focused against a Football Championship Subdivision team. The Bears were especially pleased with how they played in the second half, giving up 42 yards and no points.
"We were up but we weren't really satisfied," safety Brett Johnson said. "We were making a lot of mistakes. It could have been a much bigger score at that point. So we wanted to focus on what we did wrong in the first half and come out with a different mentality in the third quarter."
The schedule gets tougher for Cal beginning with a trip to Minnesota next week. The Bears then open the Pac-10 season the following week at Oregon before hosting No. 3 Southern California on Oct. 3 in what should be a showdown between the conference's top two teams.
Best should be well-rested considering he's only had to carry the ball 27 times the first two games. That hasn't limited his production much - he has run for 281 yards and scored four touchdowns.
He almost had one of his now-routine lengthy runs late in the first quarter but he stepped on the sideline to turn a 75-yard touchdown into a 30-yard gain. His biggest highlight came on a broken play. With Riley being pulled down by a defender, the quarterback one-hopped the ball to Best well behind the line of scrimmage.
Best turned a would-be sack into a 15-yard gain on his final carry of the game. Riley thought the pass was forward and should have been an incompletion, but was pleased with the heads-up play by Best.
"I didn't hear a whistle so I picked it up and ran with it," Best said.
Three plays later, Vereen scored his second touchdown to make it 38-7.
Best's other highlight came when he beat linebacker J.C. Sheritt and easily got open on the 22-yard touchdown catch that gave the Bears a 24-7 lead.
Knowing his team was overmatched, Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin twice went for it on fourth-and-short in his own territory in the first 35 minutes only to be stopped, leading to Cal touchdowns. In the second quarter, Matt Nichols threw an incompletion on fourth-and-1 from his 38. Eastern Washington was then stopped on fourth-and-1 from its 42 in the third quarter.
"They were the most complete team I'd ever seen on film," Baldwin said. "They're big up front, they're fast on defense. They just do everything right."
The Eagles nearly upset an FBS team last season before giving up two late touchdowns in a 31-24 loss at Colorado. This game didn't get off to such a good start for Eastern Washington, when returner J.T. Leggin slipped at the 6-yard line on the opening kick.
Nichols was sacked on the first play, and after a punt, Cal took over on the Eagles 35. Four plays later, it was 7-0 on a 1-yard keeper by Riley.
But instead of portending a blowout, the Eagles held with the Bears for the first quarter. Nichols completed eight of his first nine passes, beating Cal star cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson on a 36-yard pass to Aaron Boyce and throwing a 4-yard TD to Grant Williams to tie the score. But that would be the last score for the Eagles.
"We kind of gave them a scare in that first half, and showed them we were here to play," said Nichols, who was 23 for 31 for 195 yards. "We came down to win a football game, and if one or two plays go our way, we go into halftime with a little bit better score."