Oregon State spoils Cal’s bid for No. 1 ranking with 31-28 win
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP)—In the split-second Kevin Riley took to decide to run with the football instead of throw it away, California’s dreams of a No. 1 ranking and undefeated season slipped away.
Riley’s mistake on the final play of the game spoiled what almost was a spectacular comeback in his first career start as the clock ran out before the second-ranked Golden Bears had a chance to try a game-tying field goal in a 31-28 loss to Oregon State on Saturday.
“It’s not his fault whatsoever,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “He played his heart out down the stretch to get us in that situation. We didn’t lose the game because of that play.”
Oregon State (4-3, 2-2 Pac-10) delivered the latest shocker in an upset-filled season and denied Cal (5-1, 2-1) a chance to seize the top ranking for the first time in 56 years. No. 1 LSU lost in triple overtime at Kentucky earlier in the day, but the Bears were unable to handle their own business, becoming the 10th team ranked in the top 10 to lose to an unranked team already this season.
This marked the first time the top two teams lost on the same day since Sept. 21, 1996, when No. 1 Nebraska was beaten 19-0 by Arizona State and No. 2 Tennessee fell 35-29 to Florida.
“We just have to keep our heads up,” said receiver Lavelle Hawkins, whose 64-yard TD with 2:31 to go started Cal’s comeback from a 10-poingt deficit. “All it means is that we’re not going undefeated. You mope about the loss and it’ll carry into other losses. We don’t worry about all the rankings.”
Oregon State recovered the onsides kick after Hawkins’ late touchdown and pinned Cal at its own 5 with 1:27 left and no timeouts.
Riley, showing great poise after some early game jitters, completed a 19-yard pass to Hawkins on fourth-and-18 and a 37-yarder to Jordan. A pass interference call moved the ball to the 12 with 14 seconds left before the final fateful play.
With his receivers covered, Riley inexplicably tried to scramble for the score. He was tackled after a 2-yard gain and the clock ran out before the field goal unit could get on the field.
“I saw the field and I thought I could get around that guy,” Riley said. “It just didn’t happen.”
Joey LaRoque made the tackle on the final play, sending the Beavers into a joyous celebration and handing the Bears a devastating loss.
“That was a great finish to a great game,” LaRoque said. “Cal has a great team and it was awesome. That game is all about college football right there. I’m glad to be a part of this. It was amazing.”
Yvenson Bernard gave Oregon State the lead for good when he leaped into the end zone on fourth down from the 1 with 8:30 remaining for his second touchdown of the game. Sean Canfield hit Anthony Brown on the 2-point conversion to make it 28-21. Bernard finished with 110 yards rushing.
After Jahvid Best fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Alexis Serna kicked his third field goal of the game to make it 31-21, setting the stage for Cal’s comeback attempt. The Beavers have won four straight at Cal, last losing here in 1997.
“It looked like overtime, but that’s why you play all 60 minutes,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “When he started running I knew they didn’t have a chance.”
The day got off to a bad start for Cal when quarterback Nate Longshore was unable to start because of a sprained right ankle. Riley found out just before kickoff that he would get the nod.
He admitted to being nervous early on, but the Bears still were in position to move into the top spot after Justin Forsett’s 7-yard run gave them a 21-20 lead in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Forsett finished with 150 yards against the nation’s top-ranked defense but Cal’s offense was unable to generate much else until the final minutes under Riley, who finished 20-for-34 for 294 yards and two touchdowns.
The news of LSU’s loss reached Berkeley almost instantaneously, with fans standing up to cheer and chant “We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!” The Bears didn’t respond like a top-ranked team, committing a delay of game on their next play. That proved to be a sign of things to come.
Cal went three-and-out on that drive and Riley was intercepted on the next drive when he was hit as he threw and defensive lineman Victor Butler caught the ball. Butler’s 36-yard return to the 17 set up Serna’s 22-yard field goal that made it 10-7.
Longshore got hurt late in Cal’s win at Oregon on Sept. 29, but was expected to play after practicing Thursday. He split time in warmups with Riley, but when the game started Longshore had a headset on rather than a helmet.
Riley, who was 0-for-3 passing coming into the game, led a pair of touchdown drives in the first half. He threw a 10-yard TD pass to Hawkins and running in from the 3 to make it 14-10 with 43 seconds left in the half. Hawkins finished with nine catches for 192 yards and two scores.