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After loss, Cal would like to drop the subject

Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY -- They were ranked No. 2, already knew top-ranked Louisiana State had lost, giving them a clear shot at the No. 1 ranking for the first time since 1951, and they were playing at home against vast underdog Oregon State . . . but they wound up losing on the last play of the game.

So when the California Bears started practicing again Tuesday, they still seemed to have a lot on their minds.

There’s nothing like a 31-28 defeat in front of 63,995 disbelieving fans to turn your stomach, Cal wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins said.

“It really hit hard, I didn’t watch any ESPN, no college football shows, didn’t listen to reports on the radio, there was just so much negativity,” Hawkins said.

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In fact, he did the unthinkable, at least for a college student:

“I actually turned my cellphone off.”

That three-point loss was clearly a wrong number for the Bears, who have made a habit of being disconnected at the wrong time in the ritual chase for Bowl Championship Series gold and glory.

2006: Ranked No. 8 the week before playing fourth-ranked USC, Cal leads Arizona, 17-3, but loses, 24-20, thereby fumbling its chance to stay in the BCS title hunt.

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2004: Ranked seventh and playing No. 1 USC, Cal misses four tries at the end zone in the last minutes and loses, 23-17, ultimately costing the Bears a visit to the Rose Bowl.

Now, there’s another set of circumstances, but they begin with the unavoidable reality that nothing good is going to happen unless the Bears -- now No. 10 in the Associated Press poll and No. 12 in the BCS standings -- knock off UCLA in the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

But even before that, the Bears must scrub the Oregon State loss from their minds, and that may not be so simple, at least right away.

“It still hurts my stomach a little bit,” Hawkins said. “But I’m not fixing to cry about it.”

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Neither is Cal Coach Jeff Tedford, who has been roundly second-guessed, along with redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Riley, for the play that ended the Oregon State game.

Riley, who stepped in for injured starter Nate Longshore, took off from the Beavers’ 12-yard line with 14 seconds to play and was tackled at the 10 with no timeouts left.

He did not throw the ball away, did not spike it, did not run out of bounds, but was stopped well short of the end zone.

Tedford slammed his headset to the ground after the play. He apologized Tuesday for being too emotional, but also said he’s not angry and it wasn’t Riley’s fault.

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“It just didn’t work out,” Tedford said.

For it to work out the rest of the way for the Bears, it’s all about running the table the remainder of the season -- at UCLA, at Arizona State, at home against Washington State and USC, then at Washington and Stanford.

Of course, nothing’s for certain, except. . . “The only thing for sure now is we’re not undefeated,” Tedford said. “It’s week to week and we need to bounce back.”

A return to the field by Longshore would be a good place to begin, but Tedford said he might not make a quarterback choice until Saturday. Longshore is still recovering from a sprained right ankle he sustained during the Oregon game on Sept. 29.

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Tedford said he was ready to focus on UCLA, but admitted he struggled with the after-effects of the Oregon State defeat, same as his players.

“Any loss is very difficult to get out of my system,” the coach said. “It just hangs with you, although it really helps to get on to the next opponent [but] I take those [losses] very hard.”

And, yes, he’s thought about it, “All hours of the day and night, middle of the night, things like that.”

Offensive lineman Mike Gibson says the defeat is going to linger, but that the Bears can still make it into the BCS big-time if they win the rest of their games.

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“We’re a great team,” Gibson said. “I look at our schedule from here on out and I don’t see a team better than us.”

Cornerback Brandon Hampton was a little more philosophical.

“I looked at the schedule before the season started and I didn’t see a team better than us,” he said. “But that doesn’t hold much weight on Saturdays.”

Hampton said UCLA should know what to expect: “We are really going to be trying to put those guys away in the first five minutes of the game.”

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If so, then it really is all about timing. Last week for the Bears, it was the last 14 seconds that gave them the most trouble.

thomas.bonk@latimes.com


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