Top 50 Cal Sports Moments – No. 19: Riley’s Run, 2007

Cal would have become the nation’s No. 1 team if it defeated Oregon State in 2007, but redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Riley made a decisive blunder in the closing seconds
Kevin Riley against Oregon State
Kevin Riley against Oregon State / Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics

THE MOMENT: With 14 seconds remaining in Cal’s October 13, 2007, home football game against Oregon State, the No. 2-ranked Bears, trailing by three points, were on the Oregon State 12-yard line.  Cal would become the No. 1-ranked team for the first time since 1951 if it won the game, and redshirt freshman Kevin Riley, in his first collegiate start, had led a remarkable drive to get the Bears in position to win the game with a touchdown or send it into overtime with a field goal. With 14 seconds remaining and no timeouts left, Riley needed to throw the ball into the end zone for a touchdown or throw the ball away to allow for a field goal attempt.  Riley faded back to pass and, for some reason, he tried to scramble. He was stopped for a 2-yard gain with eight seconds left, then inexplicably carried the ball to the sidelines, preventing an opportunity for game-tying field goal. Oregon State won 31-28.

THE STORY: Those 14 seconds are etched into the minds of Cal fans, but there was a lot that led to that moment.  Cal was 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country, and the Bears were favored at home against a 3-3 Oregon State team even though Cal starting quarterback Nate Longshore was sidelined with an ankle injury, forcing redshirt freshman Kevin Riley to make his first collegiate start.

During the first quarter of the game it was announced that No. 1 LSU had lost to Kentucky in triple-overtime earlier that day. It meant a  Cal win would push the Bears into the No. 1 spot in the AP rankings for the first time since 1951, when the Bears were No. 1 for one week early in the season.

Oregon State held a 31-21 lead late in the fourth quarter, but Riley threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to Lavelle Hawkins to cut the margin to three points with 2:31 remaining.

Cal regained possession at its own 6-yard line with 1:27 left and no timeouts, and Riley led a remarkable drive that got Cal to the Oregon State 27-yard line with 18 seconds left after Riley spiked the ball.  Riley’s ensuing pass to DeSean Jackson was incomplete but Oregon State was called for unnecessary roughness on a hit on Jackson, putting the ball at the Beavers’ 12-yard line with 14 seconds to go. 

Here is a critical moment. Jackson was hurt on the play, and head coach Jeff Tedford waited to see if Jackson was OK because he wanted to call that final play for Jackson.  Tedford waited and waited, and by the time he realized Jackson would not be on the field, he didn’t have time to remind Riley to throw the ball away if he didn’t have someone open in the end zone.  But Riley had worked the clock so effectively during that drive, it seemed the inexperienced quarterback would know what to do in that situation.

He didn’t.  After he stepped back to throw and saw no receiver available, Riley inexplicably tried to run for the touchdown.  He was stopped at the 10-yard line, then, for some reason, carried the ball all the way to the Cal sideline, along the way passing an official who was begging for the ball to spot it quickly. Cal’s field-goal unit rushed onto the field, but there was no ball on the field to snap, and Cal never came close to getting off a potential tying 27-yard field goal by Jordan Kay, who finished that season 6-for-6 on field goals inside of 30 yards.

"I saw the field and I thought I could get around that guy," Riley said. "It just didn't happen."

That was the start of a three-game losing streak for Cal, which lost six of its remaining seven regular-season games, before the Bears  rallied from a 21-0 deficit to beat Air Force 42-36 in the Armed Forces Bowl. MVP for that bowl game? Kevin Riley.

*Top 50 Moment No. 20, Dual Perfection, 1997

*Top 50 Moment No. 21: Gray’s Anatomy, 1997

Only specific acts that occurred while the team or athlete was at Cal were considered for the Top 50 list, and accomplishments spanning a season or a career were not included. 

Leslie Mitchell of the Cal Bears History Twitter site aided in the selection of the top 50 moments.

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Jake Curtis


Jake Curtis worked in the San Francisco Chronicle sports department for 27 years, covering virtually every sport, including numerous Final Fours, several college football national championship games, an NBA Finals, world championship boxing matches and a World Cup. He was a Cal beat writer for many of those years, and won awards for his feature stories.