Eric Zomalt pulled California out of a monthlong slide by being in the right place at the right time to finish a come-from-behind, 24-20 victory over No. 13 Arizona Saturday.
The loss eliminated the Wildcats from the Rose Bowl race.
The Cal safety returned an interception 35 yards for a score with 3:38 left and then broke up a desperation pass into the end zone as the Golden Bears, 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the Pacific 10, pulled out the victory over the Wildcats (8-2, 5-2).
Down 20-0 at halftime, Cal ran off 24 points in the second half, including 17 in the fourth quarter, to end a four-game losing streak.
“The bad streak felt like a runaway train. Some people believed we wouldn’t win another game this season,” Zomalt said. “But we knew we could do it. We believed we could come back. That was the first step.”
Arizona drove to the Cal 19 in the final minutes. But Dan White’s fourth-down throw for Terry Vaughn in the end zone fell incomplete, tipped away by Zomalt.
“When you’re ahead most of the game, that’s the toughest one to lose,” White said. “A few mistakes here and there killed us.”
Lindsey Chapman’s one-yard touchdown run finished a seven-play, 58-yard drive that brought Cal to within 20-17 with 4:42 left.
Arizona, which alternated White and Chuck Levy at quarterback, ran two plays and was facing second and eight from its 28 when White threw a pass that Zomalt turned into the deciding points.
The pass went to Vaughn, but the ball popped into the air after a hit by Ike Booth, and Zomalt caught the deflection in stride, running untouched down the left sideline for the score.
“Ike made the play,” Zomalt said. “He knocked the ball straight up into the air and it fell right into my hands. It was just one of those lucky things.”
White said everything happened so fast that Arizona didn’t have a chance to react.
“I threw the ball and I thought he (Vaughn) caught it. Then I saw the guy running the other way,” White said.
“They made the plays at the end. We didn’t,” Arizona Coach Dick Tomey said. “They deserve credit for coming back from a sizable deficit.”
Doug Brien’s 37-yard field goal pulled the Bears to within 20-10 with 14:50 left, but the Bears’ next two possessions ended in turnovers. Arizona, though, couldn’t capitalize.
“Their coaching staff made great adjustments at the half,” Levy said. “We wanted to stay with our game plan and they just stopped us.”
Cal broke through against the nation’s top-ranked defense when Dave Barr threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Chris Carpenter with 8:23 left in the third quarter.
“I think that’s what we needed. It was an emotional lift and gave us momentum,” said Barr, who overcame nine sacks to throw for 263 yards in his first full game since suffering a shoulder bruise five weeks ago.
Arizona took a 20-0 lead by scoring three touchdowns in the final 7:53 of the half, two after Cal turnovers.