By Giorgio! Cal's Tavecchio Nails Game-Winner

Photo: <b>Cal quarterback Kevin Riley</b> completed 27 of 44 passes for 351 yards and two touchdowns, and orchestrated an 11-play drive that set up Giorgio Tavecchio's game-winning field goal in Cal's 23-21 win over Arizona State.
Skyler Reid/Staff
Cal quarterback Kevin Riley completed 27 of 44 passes for 351 yards and two touchdowns, and orchestrated an 11-play drive that set up Giorgio Tavecchio's game-winning field goal in Cal's 23-21 win over Arizona State.

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Photo: <b>Frankie Figueroa</b>, a 2006 Cal alum who majored in computer science, celebrates the Bears' victory with the small Cal contingent at Saturday's game.   Photo: Giorgio Tavecchio hit the game-winning field goal with 21 seconds left. The sophomore had an inconsistent game-missing two kicks, while also nailing a career-high 51-yarder.   

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Amid the consolation coming at him from coaches and encouragement from teammates, Giorgio Tavecchio -- who had just hooked a potential go-ahead field goal wide right with under six minutes left -- had a feeling of his own.

"Something inside me just told me that I knew I was going to get another chance," he said.

It took a clutch defensive stop and a drive for the ages led by quarterback Kevin Riley, but Tavecchio got that second chance. And with 21 seconds remaining his kick from 24 yards out sailed true through the uprights, allowing the Cal football team to escape from Sun Devil Stadium with a 23-21 win over Arizona State and realizing a dream for the sophomore kicker.

Of course, in his dream the kick is "always like 55 yards," Tavecchio said. But the moment still measured up.

"Ten times better," he said. "It was a blessing today."

After jumping out to an early 14-0 lead, the Bears watched as the Sun Devils clawed their way back into the game, eventually taking their first lead at 21-20 with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Riley and the Cal offense started the next drive at their own 31-yard line and worked their way down to the ASU 22-yard line to set up the 39-yard field goal attempt that Tavecchio missed.

As he watched the kick drift to the right, Tavecchio held his head in his hands. But his teammates wouldn't let it linger, picking him up as he came back to the sideline, telling him not to worry about it. Meanwhile, Tavecchio was praying for another shot.

When he got it, even with the game on the line, he didn't let himself be overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation.

"I was like, 'I've been here before, just kick the ball,'" Tavecchio said. "It's not rocket science. ... I was like, all right, we kind of need this one, so obviously I have to make it. Jogging out there, I was just focused and concentrated and I felt pretty good. Just being in the moment is just awesome."

It was the storybook ending to a day that was filled with plot twists for Tavecchio -- who didn't even know if he would be handling kicking duties until about 15 minutes before the game, as the decision came down to who performed better in warmups . He missed his first field goal attempt from 34 yards, then responded with conversions from 25 yards and a career-long 51 yards to put the Bears ahead 20-14 midway through the third quarter.

After the first miss, coach Jeff Tedford said, he asked Tavecchio, "What's that mean?" The kicker responded, "There's a lot of football left and hang in there, be ready for the next one."

Twice, he was. The second time became the biggest kick of his life, and lifted Cal (6-2, 3-2 in the Pac-10) above .500 in-conference for the first time this season.

"If he misses a field goal, he's human," receiver Marvin Jones said. "But the way you respond to it makes you the person you are. He's a great person, and he responded."

Without the defense and the drive manufactured by Riley, though, he wouldn't have had the chance.

After the missed field goal, Tedford said, the mood on the sideline was that there was still time left, but that the Bears needed a stop. Cal had held Arizona State (4-4, 2-3) to just 16 rushing yards in the first half, but the Sun Devils were having better success on the ground in the second with backup Cameron Marshall against a fatigued Bears defense. On third-and-three, Marshall spun off of initial contact and tried to bounce outside, but was brought down just inches short by cornerback Josh Hill.

"We knew they were going to try to run it," said linebacker Mike Mohamed, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles. "Everybody had to be tight and tough, come downhill, plug the holes, and everybody did a good job of that. It was just a couple inches, but that was all we needed."

When the Bears took over at their own 19-yard line with 3:16 left in the game, Riley led an 11-play march down the field, completing five of six passes for 85 yards. None were bigger than the 26-yard completion to Jones over the middle immediately after a face mask penalty on Jones had dropped the offense back to first-and-25 from its own 40-yard line.

"He showed what I really know Kevin's made of -- he's a great competitor," Tedford said. "He proved it there. He was harassed all day long by their pass rush, but just kept hanging in there and was smart with the football. ... He played his heart out today."

It was a side of Riley -- and really the entire Cal offense -- that hadn't been called upon this season. Going into Saturday, the Bears hadn't played a game decided by less than 14 points, and Tedford talked during the week about the team's need to be mentally prepared for a matchup that looked like it could go down to the wire.

To have, and win, that type of game, Riley said, was "huge."

"When I've been here we haven't had very many successes where we were behind and came back and won," he said.

Riley finished 27-for-44 for 351 yards and two touchdowns, going to the air often because of how well the Sun Devils' lauded rush defense contained Cal tailback Jahvid Best. Best carried 18 times for just 63 yards, and the Bears -- who came into the game with the top rushing offense in the Pac-10, averaging over 200 yards per game -- finished with a total of 57 yards on the ground.

But Best did play a big part in the passing game with seven catches for 61 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter that opened the scoring. Riley found Jones for a 12-yard touchdown later that quarter to put Cal ahead, 14-0.

From there, the offense stalled, due in part to two lost fumbles by Riley. The second occurred at the Bears' own three-yard line, setting up ASU's first touchdown on a pass from backup quarterback Samson Szakacsy to Jovon Williams. The Sun Devils struck again on their next drive with an 80-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Danny Sullivan that tied the game, and took the 21-20 lead with 10:21 left in the fourth quarter on a six-yard run by Marshall, ultimately setting up Tavecchio's heroics.

For a game with a great ending, Saturday's affair was fairly ugly. The two teams combined for 23 penalties, which resulted in 238 yards lost. Cal turned the ball over twice, ASU three times. The Bears' offense averaged 1.9 yards per rush, the defense was burned yet again by a big play, and the final outcome almost hinged on a missed field goal.

But they made good on their second chance.

"This win, the way it happened, we haven't had one of these," Tedford said. "We preach it all the time, but sometimes you don't come up with the opportunity to carry through with it. And today, all the things that we preach and talk about as a team, we got to experience. So it was a great win for us today. Not a pretty win, but a great win because of the way the kids hung in there and did their jobs."


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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