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December 23, 2005

Cal gets by BYU in Vegas



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LAS VEGAS - Marshawn Lynch had no time for a loose shoelace. He was too busy carrying California to a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl - and during his second touchdown run, his untied shoe stayed on him better than any BYU tackler.

"I almost, almost slipped," Lynch claimed of his 23-yard sprint in the second quarter.

Anybody who watched his performance in the Golden Bears' 35-28 over Brigham Young probably wouldn't believe him - but everybody got a look at the wealth of offensive talent coming back to Cal in 2006.

Lynch rushed for career highs of 194 yards and three touchdowns to win the MVP award, and DeSean Jackson caught two scoring passes before Cal's defense held off Brigham Young on Thursday night in an entertaining meeting of two programs with big aspirations for next season.

Steve Levy passed for 228 yards in his second career start for the Golden Bears (8-4), who hung on against BYU's fourth-quarter comeback in a high-octane game featuring 915 total yards.

"We didn't want to go into this offseason with a negative, because we grew up so much this year," said Jackson, who capped his impressive freshman season with six catches for 130 yards. "They're an up-and-coming team, but so are we."

Cal took a 21-point lead into the final quarter after Lynch's 35-yard scoring run and Jackson's exceptional 22-yard diving TD catch in the third. But BYU quarterback John Beck responded with scoring passes to Jonny Harline and Todd Watkins, whose 9-yard grab with 5:35 left cut Cal's lead to seven points.

The Bears improbably tried a 50-yard field goal with 2:20 to play, and Tom Schneider's kick was well short. But the Cougars moved just 7 yards before Beck's arm was hit by Cal lineman Phillip Mbakogu, and Daymeion Hughes intercepted the wobbling pass to seal the Bears' second bowl victory in three postseason trips under coach Jeff Tedford.

"It was great to see a reflection of how much we've improved with this young team," Tedford said. "This effort was typical of our team. It doesn't surprise me."

Beck set Las Vegas Bowl records in BYU's spread offense, going 35-for-53 for 352 yards and three TDs. In their first bowl game in four years, the Cougars (6-6) mounted three scoring drives longer than 90 yards and moved the ball consistently.

"It's tough to fight back like that and fall short," Beck said. "It's tough to see the seniors end their final game like this, but for us guys that are coming back, it looks like a bright road for us."

The Bears' stars were the difference. Jackson scored on a 42-yard romp through the BYU secondary 3 seconds before halftime, while Lynch had scoring runs of 3, 23 and 35 yards along with a handful of jaw-dropping second-effort rushes. His yards and touchdowns also were Cal bowl records.

"Cal's running backs are exceptional, not average," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "I think our team pursued hard, did the very best they could to get the running backs on the ground, and it was good enough to lose the game by seven points."

Nathan Meikle had career highs with 12 catches for 93 yards for BYU, which hasn't won a bowl game since 1996. But the season was a success for the once-proud Cougars, who got back to the postseason in Mendenhall's rookie season.

Most of the bowl-record crowd of 40,053 at Sam Boyd Stadium was made up of BYU fans, but they got the biggest thrills from Lynch, who finally had a game worthy of the hype entering his sophomore campaign.

Lynch was expected to dominate the Pac-10 this season after averaging 8.8 yards per carry as a freshman. Lynch was undeniably good, finishing the regular season with 1,052 yards, but he missed two games with a broken finger and was benched during another for fumbling twice.

"He can do anything, be anything he wants to be," Cal senior center Marvin Philip said.

Cal scored on the game's opening drive when Lynch followed Philip, a Mormon with extensive family ties to BYU, into the end zone. The Cougars finally got going late in the first quarter with a 15-play, 92-yard drive culminating in Curtis Brown's 19-yard TD catch.

After Lynch's shoelace shuffle, BYU tied it on Fahu Tahi's 3-yard scoring run 38 seconds before halftime, capping a 91-yard drive in just five plays.

But the Bears got a long kickoff return and a pass-interference call before Jackson, who didn't arrive in Las Vegas until Monday night because of finals, ran a simple hook pattern and eluded three defenders for a score.

The Las Vegas Bowl is sponsored by Pioneer.

For more bowl coverage, check out the college football home page.


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