Cal slips to 10th in poll after mistakes cost Bears chance at top spot
BERKELEY, Calif. -- The California fans started chanting "We're No. 1! We're No. 1!" as soon as word of LSU's triple-overtime loss at Kentucky reached Memorial Stadium.
The only problem was that the Golden Bears played nothing like a No. 1 team and blew their chance to move into the top spot in the polls for the first time in 56 years.
Turnovers, defensive breakdowns and one memorable mistake on the game's final play doomed Cal in its 31-28 loss to Oregon State on Saturday.
Poised to move up to No. 1 after top-ranked LSU's loss earlier in the day, the Bears (5-1, 2-1 Pac-10) were unable to deliver and dropped from second to 10th in the latest poll.
Now hopes turn from an undefeated season and a national championship to ending a Rose Bowl drought that dates back to the 1959 season.
"It hurts," said backup quarterback Kevin Riley, whose failure to throw the ball away on the last play cost Cal a chance at overtime.
"I'm hurting and the team is hurting right now, but we can still win the rest of our games. In this college football season, you don't know what the hell is going to happen."
Cal became the 10th team ranked in the Top 10 this season to lose to an unranked team, joining the likes of Southern California to Stanford and Michigan to Appalachian State.
Coupled with LSU's 43-37 loss, it marked the first time in 11 years that the top two teams lost on the same day.
"We take this as a lesson," linebacker Worrell Williams said. "We were saying that teams get knocked off every week. The top two teams got knocked off. We're going to take this lesson and get back into the film room and get back to work. It was key little plays that we weren't able to convert."
The biggest play was the last. After Riley drove Cal from its 5 to the Oregon State 12 in the final 1:27, the Bears looked poised to send the game into overtime or even possibly win it.
With 14 seconds left and no timeouts, coach Jeff Tedford chose to take a shot one at the end zone instead of kicking the potential game-tying field goal.
"Maybe you win the game," Tedford said. "A lot of times you second guess yourself, but I don't second guess this one. We just didn't make the play."
Riley dropped back, and with no receivers open, he decided to run for it instead of throwing the ball away. He was tackled at the 10 and there was no time to spike the ball or get the field goal unit on the field, providing a crushing ending to his first start.
Riley got the start in place of Nate Longshore, who has a sprained right ankle. Admittedly nervous at the start, Riley played well down the stretch and finished 20-for-34 for 294 yards and two touchdowns.
"I thought Riley played well," receiver Lavelle Hawkins said. "He made great decisions. He shouldn't hang his head. There wasn't anyone open, so he made the decision to make a play with his feet. I'm not disappointed, Riley played well. Of course, you wanted your superstar starter out there, but I wouldn't take anything back."
The Bears will probably need Longshore the rest of the way if they want to make it to the Rose Bowl because they can ill afford another slip-up like the one against the Beavers (4-3, 2-2).
The schedule gets tough for Cal with road games at UCLA and No. 12 Arizona State -- the only undefeated teams in conference play -- before home games against Washington State and No. 13 USC.
"We had visions of going undefeated and aspirations and dreams. But this is reality," linebacker Worrell Williams said. "The season isn't over. This is just an obstacle that we have to get through."
The Bears made plenty of mistakes before the final play. They turned the ball over three times, failed to score on four shots from inside the 2, and botched a squib kick at the end of the first half to set up an Oregon State field goal.
They also were unable to get star receiver DeSean Jackson involved at all. He had four catches for five yards and one 8-yard run after having 11 catches for 161 yards and two scores two weeks ago at Oregon.
But it will be the play at the end that will be remembered from this game.
"We didn't lose the game because of that play," Tedford said. "There were a lot of plays."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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