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Pac-10: California turns big plays into a win

Associated Press
Published August 31, 2003

BERKELEY, Calif. - Reggie Robertson threw two touchdowns and James Bethea returned a blocked punt for a score as California beat Southern Mississippi 34-2 Saturday in the Golden Bears' home opener.

Adimchinobe Echemandu rushed for a career-high 127 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown, and tight ends Brandon Hall and Garrett Cross caught scoring passes as Cal shut out Southern Miss over the final 55 minutes of the schools' first meeting.

The Bears got another impressive non-conference rout under coach Jeff Tedford with hard-hitting defense and fine special teams. Cal blocked two punts and Mike McGrath's interception in the final minute of the first half set up a score.

Robertson was 9-of-14 for 142 yards, improving his hold on the starting job. J.J. Arrington rushed for 114 yards as Cal gained 417 yards.

Micky D'Angelo had 163 passing yards for Southern Miss, which lost its opener for the fifth time in coach Jeff Bower's 13 seasons. In their first game against a Pac-10 team, the Golden Eagles had the fewest points since Tulane beat them 45-0 in 1995.

Cal's special teams had a big home debut under new coordinator Pete Alamar. Andy Briner blocked Luke Johnson's punt midway through the second quarter, and Bethea returned it untouched for a score.

The Eagles' revamped offense under new coordinator Rip Scherer wasn't nearly as impressive. Southern Miss got the first points on a safety when punter Lucas Everett fumbled a snap out of bounds. But the Eagles never seriously threatened to score against the Bears' first-string defense and finished with 277 total yards.

The Southern Miss defense, which features five preseason all-Conference USA picks, was as good as advertised in making three effective stands near the goal line in the first half. But Southern Miss made huge mistakes on offense and special teams, repeatedly forcing the defense to get back on the field after turnovers.

D'Angelo was 16-of-26, but the junior took a beating from blitzing linebackers and defensive backs. Donnie McCleskey popped D'Angelo's helmet off with a crushing sack late in the first quarter.

Cal debuted its Momentum Turf, a new artificial-grass surface also used by the Baltimore Ravens.

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