TEMPE, Ariz. — Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio says he never notices the distance of his field goal attempts — except in his dreams.
He probably noticed the length of his last kick Saturday, because it was a dream come true.
Tavecchio nailed a 24-yard field goal with 21 seconds left to lift the Bears to a 23-21 victory over Arizona State in front of 43,659 at Sun Devil Stadium.
"My mentality before I kick a field goal is, I really don't remember how far it is," Tavecchio said. "In my dreams, it's always 55 yards. I don't think of distances in reality, but in my dreams, why not?"
Tavecchio's game-winner made up for his miss from 39 yards out with 5:46 remaining that also would have given the Bears the lead. He said it was the first game-winning field goal he's ever made at any level.
"I was praying for (another chance)," Tavecchio said. "Something inside me just told me that I was going to get another chance. A kicker's greatest dream is a game-winning field goal. I feel very blessed to have been able to win the game at the end."
Tavecchio almost didn't kick at all Saturday. Coach Jeff Tedford extended the competition between him and freshman Vince D'Amato all the way into pregame before finally making a decision. Tavecchio said he found out about 20 minutes before kickoff that he
would be handling the kick duties.
"I'm happy for Giorgio that he came in and kicked that because you really feel bad for a kid when the game is on the line," Tedford said. "I was happy that he came back and knocked it through."
Tavecchio's second chance was made possible only because of a brilliant drive engineered by quarterback Kevin Riley, who moved Cal 74 yards on 11 plays and included a 15-yard face mask penalty on wide receiver Marvin Jones. Riley completed 5 of 6 passes for 85 yards on the possession and finished with 351 yards passing and two touchdowns.
After Tavecchio's 39-yarder sailed right to keep Arizona State's lead at 21-20, the Bears defense forced the Sun Devils into a three-and-out, stopping running back Cameron Marshall less than a yard short of a first down. Cal (6-2, 3-2 Pac-10) got the ball back with 3:16 remaining, and Riley connected with tight end Anthony Miller for 22 yards on second down to move the ball to its own 45. A 10-yard completion to Verran Tucker got it into ASU territory, but then Jones was called for a face mask violation to set up 1st-and-25 from the Bears 40.
On the next play, Riley found Jones for a 26-yard gain, and the Bears were back in business.
"During times like that, I always want to make a play," Jones said. "He looked at me, and I got the first down. I was pretty happy that happened."
Riley completed a 16-yard pass to Alex Lagemann and an 11-yarder to Tucker to give the Bears 1st-and-goal at the Sun Devils' 7. Cal tailback Shane Vereen almost had a pass intercepted out of the Wildcat formation on second down, and Riley downed the ball on third down to set up Tavecchio's game-winner.
It was a coming-of-age type of drive for Riley, who had only been in that position once before in his career. That came two years ago against Oregon State, when he mistakenly tried to run for a touchdown with no timeouts remaining and the clock ran out.
"I've grown a lot since that day and I know every situation pretty well now," Riley said. "I'm a pretty confident guy — I don't think it's going to make my confidence any higher. It just feels good that my teammates trusted me to go out there and put us in the position to win. Everybody had faith in me, and I had faith in myself and the offense, and we did it."
The Bears' game-winning drive came after their offense stalled for much of the second half. Cal took a 14-0 lead on touchdown passes to Jahvid Best and Jones, but after gaining 217 yards in the first half, the Bears had amassed just 102 after the intermission until the final possession.
"He showed what I really know Kevin is made of," Tedford said. "He's a great competitor. He proved it there. He played his heart out today. It was a great drive for him and for us as a team."
The Bears defense, under some heat after allowing large amounts of yards the past two weeks to suspect offenses, silenced the Sun Devils for much of the game. ASU struck for one big play, an 80-yard touchdown pass from Danny Sullivan to Kyle Williams in the second quarter.
Arizona State had just 16 yards rushing in the first half, but Marshall hurt the Bears in the second half, rushing for 59 yards and the touchdown that gave the Sun Devils their only lead of the game. He carried the ball all three plays on the drive following Tavecchio's miss, but Cal cornerback Josh Hill stopped him just short of the first down marker to force a punt.
"We want the offense and the rest of the team to be able to count on us, especially in those critical situations," Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "So we came up big, got the ball back in the offense's hands, and then it was our turn to trust them. It all came together."