By Mark Mayorga
Daily Cougar Staff
BERKELEY, Calif. - Pain. Agony. Suffering. Torment. All of those outline the distress the Cougars felt after giving up a lead late in a loss to the Cal Bears to open the 1998 football season.
After a stellar performance by the Cougar defense, the Cal version of the West Coast offense scored a late touchdown from Quarterback Justin Vedder to Dameane Douglas with 2:07 left in the fourth. That proved to be just enough for the Bears to steal the game away 14-10 over Houston before a crowd of 33,000 at Memorial Stadium.
Coming into the season opener, it was the Cougar offense that was supposed to produce, and the defense was penned to be suspect. However, the defense stepped up on Saturday and displayed true grit, allowing the fewest points since the 1996 game against Louisville.
"If you look across the boards today, you'll see we're pretty legit and we proved that today," defensive end Patterson Owens said. "And now we have to keep it up from here on out - bend, but not break."
Both head coaches said they thought the game would be an offensive battle going into Saturday, but it quickly turned into a struggle.
"Offensively, it was a series of mishaps for us," said head coach Kim Helton. "Whatever we needed to do offensively to shoot ourselves in the foot, we did."
"It was not a good offensive performance by our receiving corps and quarterback, so we need to go back to work," Helton said. "We have 10 games left, and I still think we're going to be a good football team."
The Cougars won the opening toss and proceeded to march down the field, looking to be well on their way to putting points on the board.
Cougar QB Jason McKinley followed a Ketric Sanford first down by completing his first two passes to Orlando Iglesias for 21 yards. After a McKinley pass to Jerrian James and a reverse by Kendall Williams got the Cougars down to the Cal 15 yard line, the drive stalled due to the recurring scenario of penalties. Penalties, mostly offensive holding calls, hampered the Cougar attack all day long.
Mike Waddell came into the game and missed a 36-yard field goal wide left.
"Bottom line is that we're down there twice inside the 20-yard line and we get two holding calls and come away with nothing," Helton said.
"Even at the end, to make the drive to win the game, you had everything you can ask for. You have great field position with 1:40 to play, and there we are with a holding penalty."
After Waddell's miss, Vedder marched the Bear offense 80 yards on nine plays, which resulted in a 30-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Pipersburg.
With the presence of a very physical Cal defense, McKinley couldn't find his mark and was 16 of 42 with two interceptions and a touchdown.
"We just couldn't get the ball in the end zone," McKinley said. "We didn't make the plays at the right time, and we had penalties at the wrong time."
The Bears were forced to punt late in the second quarter deep in their own end, and special teamer Arthur Gissendanner came up with the biggest play of the day for the Cougars as he penetrated the Cal line and blocked Nick Harris' punt. Kairon Hill picked up the ball at the Cal 19-yard line and nearly returned it all the way for a touchdown. Hill was pushed out at the 7-yard line.
Houston's offense had 1:22 left in the first half to march seven yards. A McKinley pass to Orlando Iglesias with 8 seconds left proved to be the only touchdown of the day for the Cougars.
"We needed a big score and Jason told me in the huddle that he was going to come to me," Iglesias said. "He told me he was going to throw it up and have me jump for it."
The other major surprise for the Cougars was the play of the special teams. A new kicker, punter and snapper proved to hold their own throughout Saturday's game.
Walk-on Mike Waddell came back after missing an earlier 36-yard field goal to make a 52-yarder, which put the Cougars ahead 10-7 in the third quarter. Waddell's kick ranks as the second-longest in school history.
"As a kicker, you have to be able to clear things out of your head, because if you worry about it, you're going to miss," Waddell said. "It showed that (Helton) has confidence in me to come back after I missed a kick and let me attempt a 52-yarder."
The winning drive for the Bears came after a Joey Saavedra punt of 51 yards, which Cal speedster Deltha O'Neal returned for 21 yards.
With 3:25 and two time-outs left, Vedder completed a pass to his wide out, Douglas, who transformed a 15-yard gain into a 34-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, the Cal defense committed back-to-back penalties that led the Cougars all the way down to the Cal 45-yard line with 1:40 left in the game. But, as was the case throughout the game, a holding penalty stalled another Cougar drive.
"You're not going to make first downs when you're first-and-25 all day," Helton said. "The game is a first-and-10 game, and even that is tough.
"The greatest thing that we now know is that we have a defensive football team that can hand the offense a 14-point game," he said.