BERKELEY, Calif. - A few days after John Mackovic's players nearly brought him down, they hoisted their coach on their shoulders to celebrate the most improbable development yet in Arizona's dramatic week.
Jason Johnson passed for a school-record 492 yards and threw two of his four touchdown passes to Justin Levasseur as Arizona snapped a six-game losing streak Saturday with a 52-41 victory over California - days after a near-mutiny by half of Mackovic's team.
Nobody was sure what to expect from the Wildcats (4-7, 1-6 Pac-10) this weekend after 40 players met with university president Peter Likins on Tuesday night to express their distaste for Mackovic's abrasive verbal style.
Instead of resigning, as many university insiders thought he would, Mackovic apologized for several mistakes during an emotional news conference. On Saturday, the Wildcats played with more life than they'd showed all season and scored more points than they had in the previous four weeks combined to produce a cathartic victory.
"They showed unbelievable courage, character, heart - everything," said Mackovic, who got a brief postgame ride on two freshmen's shoulders before hugging athletic director Jim Livingood. "I don't think they'll ever forget this game. It will not necessarily be the biggest victory they ever have, but it's something they'll use as a lesson for a long time."
There was little trace of any bad feelings in the visitors' locker room at Memorial Stadium, where the players led a jubilant cheer that brought tears to Johnson's eyes.
"We've been through so much this week that we felt like this game was about coming together and playing for ourselves," said Johnson, who broke the school record he set earlier this year despite a bum ankle and several bone-jarring hits. "For a lot of these guys in Division I football, the field is their refuge. You can put everything behind you out there."
Bobby Wade caught 11 passes for a career-high 222 yards as the Wildcats finished strong in a wacky victory over Cal (6-5, 3-4). The game included touchdown returns of an interception, a blocked punt and a blocked field goal.
Levasseur, a backup tight end who was one of Mackovic's biggest detractors, caught his first two TD passes of the season, including the go-ahead score with 12:37 left. Earlier this week, Mackovic apologized to Levasseur for calling the tight end "a disgrace to his family."
"Coach said this was our game, and we should play for ourselves," said Levasseur, a native of nearby Antioch. "I always try to put on a good show for my family, and they were all here. That's what this game was about."
Though his numbers reflect Arizona's near-complete abandonment of a running game, Johnson had his third 400-yard game of the season, completing 31 of 45 passes. He outplayed Cal star Kyle Boller, who was 22-of-45 for 298 yards and two interceptions.
"I don't know if Jason can play any better," Mackovic said. "He was incredibly focused and sharp. We're not very balanced, and we know that, but if we do what we want to do, we can win."
The Golden Bears have made a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Jeff Tedford, but they evoked memories of last season's 1-10 team in a discouraging defensive performance. Their terrible pass coverage cost them a chance to clinch their first winning season since 1993.
"All week long, we tried to talk about how they're not our issues, they're (Arizona's) issues," Tedford said. "But you don't know how much of it sinks into the players when they're seeing the media and the interviews and reading stuff. I'm not going to blame it on that, though. It's our job to get them ready to play."
Arizona's Lance Relford caught a 31-yard TD pass and later blocked a punt that was returned by Lamon Means for a score. Andrae Thurman caught nine passes for 151 yards as the Wildcats ran for minus-1 yards but shredded the Bears' secondary.
Arizona, which ran for 48 yards in its first six conference games combined, avoided matching the longest losing streak in school history. Ray Wells intercepted two passes, returning one for a score.
Trailing 34-31 early in the fourth quarter, Arizona went back ahead on Levasseur's 9-yard TD catch, then recovered a low, line-drive kickoff that ricocheted off one of the Bears near midfield. Wade made a 7-yard TD catch moments later, and Arizona followed with another scoring drive capped by Beau Carr's 7-yard TD run.
By GREG BEACHAM