Beaver recalls his day in the sun
- kerry eggers
- Portland Tribune - Sports
He was a rather nondescript Division I-A football player, a career reserve, mostly a member of special teams.
Then Matt Sieverson was thrust into the limelight.
For one glorious afternoon at Autzen Stadium, the Bend High grad lived the life of a major-college sports hero.
Filling in for injured star tailback Yvenson Bernard, Sieverson carried the rushing load as Oregon State upset 18th-ranked Oregon 38-31 in two overtimes in the 111th Civil War on Dec. 1, 2007.
The 6-2, 220-pound senior - making his second career start - gained 142 yards on 27 attempts, including a 38-yard touchdown burst on his first run from scrimmage.
The performance earned Sieverson a permanent spot in Beaver lore, especially with loyalists who cherish no victory more than one over the hated Ducks.
As a youngster who grew up in an Oregon State family and was a rabid Beaver fan, Sieverson's achievement was as close as it gets to the Holy Grail.
'It's what every kid growing up in Oregon dreams about - getting a chance to play a significant role in that game,' says Sieverson, 25, Pacific Office Automation account manager for the Lake Oswego/West Linn territory for the past three years.
Sieverson will always hold a place in the heart of OSU coach Mike Riley.
'It's a neat story,' Riley says with a smile. 'Matt had contributed in a lot of ways, but not that much at running back - until that game.
'He was a workhorse and allowed us to have an opportunity to win with his production. You do that your senior year, it becomes one of those lifetime memories. And people won't forget, because he is from our state. He had one of those special sports moments.'
After setting a set state 4A record with more than 2,700 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns as a senior at Bend, Sieverson came to Oregon State as a walk-on, with the agreement that he would be put on scholarship after his first two years. He played special teams and was a reserve safety and receiver his first three seasons.
Before his senior year, Sieverson was moved to running back, where he shared back-up duties with Clinton Polk behind all-Pac-10 performer Bernard.
Sieverson saw action there in several games that season, carrying seven times for 23 yards in the opener against Utah, nine for 29 yards against Idaho State, then 16 for 68 yards against Stanford as Bernard nursed an injury.
With Bernard sidelined after arthroscopic knee surgery, Sieverson got his first career start the following Saturday, rushing 10 times for 33 yards while dividing time with Polk in a 24-3 loss at 13th-ranked Southern Cal.
Bernard's knee got banged up again in the penultimate regular-season game, a 52-17 victory at Washington State. Coaches gave Sieverson an alert during the week of practice leading up to the Oregon game.
'I knew Ev was going to try to give it a go,' Sieverson says. 'The coaches told me he was going to do everything he could to get ready, but it was about 80 percent that I'd be starting.'
Bernard warmed up before the game, but about an hour prior to kickoff, coaches decided Bernard wouldn't be available and that Sieverson would start.
'I was excited, really excited,' Sieverson says. 'You can't ask for a better opportunity.'
On the second play from scrimmage, Sieverson scored on a 38-yard run through a hole a Hummer could have skirted through.
'Everybody (on the Ducks' defense) followed James Rodgers on a fake around the end,' Sieverson recalls. 'The hole was five or six feet wide. I had a lot better runs later in the game. It didn't take much ability to get it done on that play. I took the handoff, ran as hard as I could, and there was nobody there.
'It hit me about the 10-yard line that I was going to score. I don't know if I was ever that excited in my life.'
Rodgers' 25-yard run on a fly sweep in the second extra session provided the margin of victory, but nobody was bigger in the eyes of Beaver Nation on that day than Sieverson. It was the first victory for a road team in the Civil War rivalry in 11 years.
'It would have been neat to do that at Reser Stadium,' says Sieverson, named Pac-10 offensive player of the week for his performance. 'On the other hand, to have that streak end on the home field of a rival you don't have very good feelings about - I couldn't have asked for more.'
Sieverson says he stays in contact with about 10 of his former teammates at Oregon State. Occasionally they convene over an adult beverage or two and talk about the good ol' days.
'We wind up talking about being on that team, the relationships we made, how much fun it was to play college football at Oregon State,' he says.
Sieverson has considered trying to get a ticket to watch Saturday's 115th renewal of the rivalry at Autzen.
'But I probably won't go,' he says. 'I'm not really fond of that place. It's hard to hang around down there.'
Sieverson has attended a couple of OSU games in Corvallis this fall, visiting with former teammates such as Rodgers and Joe Halahuni.
'I like to say hi to the coaches,' Sieverson says. 'Coach Riley is such a great guy. It's always nice to thank him for the opportunities he gave me.'
The Beavers are a four-touchdown underdog Saturday. Sieverson isn't
counting them out.
'I think they can win,' Sieverson says. 'Anything can happen in a rivalry game. We've struggled this year, but you never know. Riley is a heck of a coach, and we have some athletes down there.
'When you're in that position, the odds don't matter. You expect to win, anyway.'
But will the Beavers really expect to win?
'I would hope so,' Sieverson says. 'That was always the attitude of the team when I was there. That's how Riley works it. They'll go through preparation in practice during the week, and they'll step onto the field Saturday with that mindset.
'If you're going to play, you might as well win, right?'
Sometimes, there is even a storybook ending. Nobody knows that better than Matt Sieverson.