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Gophers stuffed by Bears

MINNEAPOLIS -- It should be taken as a positive that the Minnesota Gophers felt the pain. And that's not necessarily a reference to Eric Decker's sewn-up chin.

MINNEAPOLIS -- It should be taken as a positive that the Minnesota Gophers felt the pain. And that's not necessarily a reference to Eric Decker's sewn-up chin.

Getting players out of the locker room in front of a microphone was like pulling teeth. When they finally did, there wasn't a person associated with the Gophers football team willing to drop the dreaded phrase "moral victory."

Instead, after a 35-21 loss to No. 8 California at TCF Bank Stadium: grimaces and frowns. The Gophers proved Saturday they could take a punch; just look at Decker rubbing his iron jaw thanks to a first-half Cal haymaker. The Gophers served notice that they could be a team to watch with the Big Ten season about to get under way.

But, of course, that wasn't about to fly after the game ended.

"What I'm disappointed in is we didn't find a way to win the game," said Gophers coach Tim Brewster, obviously spent. "That we didn't make the plays at the end of the game when we had opportunities."

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Cal running back Jahvid Best ran for 144 yards and a school-record five touchdowns. The Bears stuffed the Gophers running game from start to finish, and put constant pressure on quarterback Adam Weber. The Bears had a 14-0 lead before the Gophers had netted a positive offensive yard. And yet, as the third quarter ended, the Gophers had found a way to tie the game 21-21.

Weber shrugged off the pressure and threw two TD passes, both to Decker, who caught the first despite absorbing a horrific hit. But a flurry of mistakes on both sides of the ball, coupled with the irrepressible Best, proved too much.

"We hung in there," said linebacker Lee Campbell. "We had chances to win the football game. Several chances. We have to learn how to finish. We have got to finish."

Does this sound like a guy celebrating a moral victory?

The game looked like it was going to get way out of hand early. The Gophers won the toss, deferred, and Cal, with Best running the ball four time for 42 yards, promptly drove 80 plays to take a 7-0 lead.

The Gophers' first drive of the game was sabotaged by a false start penalty before the first snap. Just 8 minutes into the game, and just three plays after the Gophers' first punt, Best ran for a 2-yard TD and the rout was on.

But wait.

The Gophers offense, again nearly a quarter late to the party, started making some plays. The defense, mixing in a little 3-4 scheme to get speedy linebacker Keanon Cooper on the field, did too. Moments into the second quarter the Gopers ended a 54-play drive when Weber avoided pressure, moved to the right and sent a pass down the right sidelines. Decker went hith to make the catch, got his foot down then held on to the ball despite a head-hunting hit by Cal safety Sean Cattouse for a 26-yard score. It was, by acclimation, the greatest catch of Deckers' stellar career.

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The Bears were up 21-7 late in the half when, on a Cal punt, Bryant Allen sustained a helmet-to-helmet hit by Isi Sofele. The penalty put the ball on the Cal 29 with 1:11 in the half. Just 31 seconds later Decker caught his second TD pass, a 12-yarder, and the Gophers went into halftime down a score.

The Gophers made it into the Red Zone early in the third, only to have Hayo Carpenter lose a fumble. But the Gophers defense, blitzing more, was slowing Cal. Finally, late in the quarter, Weber took the gophers 77 yards in seven plays. Decker took a handoff, rolled left and hit Gray for the tying score.

That's the way it stayed until 5 minutes into midway through the fourth. Cal had yet to register a second-half first down. The Bears had the ball at their 22, third-and-16 when quarterback Kevin Riley hit Jeremy Ross for 35 yards and a first down. Just like that, the game turned.

A few plays later Best scored TD No. 4. On the first drive of the Gophers drive Weber forced a pass and was interceptied by Mike Mohamed, a turnover Cal scored into the final points of the game.

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