It was a night most high school running backs wouldn't dare dream about. Rubidoux High School tailback Ryan Knight established a Southern Section single-game rushing record with 501 yards in 31 carries in the Falcons' 58-7 victory over Corona on Nov. 4, 1983.
Knight scored on runs of 68, 56, 36 and 49 yards. He had 125 yards called back because of penalties.
Knight, a 6-foot 2-inch, 200-pound senior, became an instant campus celebrity, what with television crews coming to the Riverside campus to interview him.
"It was one of the outstanding accomplishments of my life," Knight said.
But the night of Knight's became embroiled in controversy.
Two newspaper reporters who covered the game questioned the yard total. Tom Phillips of the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported that Knight gained 487 yards. Tim Urbonya of the Corona Independent reported 478 yards.
Rival Coach Joe Robles of Corona said his official statistics showed that Knight had gained 483 yards. No one disputed that Knight had broken the record of 476 yards set in 1976 by Larry Chacon of Riverside Notre Dame. They questioned, however, the accuracy of Knight's total.
Three years later, no one knows for sure. One thing is certain: The Southern Section's press guide and record book lists Knight's record as 501 yards.
Phillips, today the sports information director at UC Riverside, insists the mark is 487. He said the inconsistency of recording and handling the record "irritated me more than anything I did in my five years at the Press-Enterprise."
Phillips had an inclination that Knight was about to embark on a record-setting journey. Knight had set a school record of 404 yards against a poor Corona team as a junior. So Phillips brought a friend to the game that night with the expressed task of charting Knight's progress.
"After the first quarter, Ryan had 190 yards, so we started confirming his yardage on every attempt," Phillips said. "We covered the game from the sidelines, and I know I was right.
"When I saw the figure of 501 yards that the school released, I called the CIF commissioner (Ray Plutko) on Monday. I told him, 'A record is a record, and it should be accurate.' I was told they were going to send me a form to verify the mark, but I never received anything."
Urbonya, living in Wisconsin, was unavailable for comment. But Independent sports editor Jerry Soifer also questions the "official" figure.
"We wanted to review the Corona game film, but the film didn't contain every play," Soifer said. "Corona has always been rather meek about football, so the school's administrators didn't say much about the accuracy of the mark.
"The controversy went on for several weeks. I think the reporters who were there that night are more accurate than the Rubidoux stat man."
Tony Allega was the Rubidoux statistician who released the 501-yard mark. Allega, a pool manager at the school for 17 years, has been a volunteer football statistician for 12 seasons.
Allega had originally reported to two Los Angeles newspapers that Knight had rushed for 503 yards. Later, he rechecked his figures four times and came up with 501. Three years later, he insists Knight rushed for 501 yards and has the game book to prove it.
"A couple of days after the game, our athletic director (Rick Stangle)
came over to the pool and said he wanted the game book," Allega said. "He took the book and went over the game film frame by frame.
"He brought the book back to me and said it was accurate. He told me that Ryan had actually gained more than 501 yards, but he didn't want to change it again."
The mark was submitted and accepted by the Southern Section after it was verified by Rubidoux's principal, said section publicist Scott Cathcart. Dean Crowley, a section administrator, said: "To my knowledge, no one on our staff reviewed the game film."
And that's what gripes Phillips.
"Personally, I like Ryan," Phillips said. "I did several stories on him. But I want things to be totally honest.
"If the CIF is going to rely on schools for records, they should send a guideline to each school that shows the proper method of keeping stats. There's no standard way for the schools to keep stats under the present system."
Knight, now a junior tailback at USC majoring in communications, looks back at the record with pride, but also thinks the mark was somewhat tarnished by the controversy.
"I know I set the record," Knight said. "But when the coach at Corona (Joe Robles) said it wasn't legitimate, it made me feel bad. They tried to make me look bad, and they tainted my school.
"Personally, records are what keeps me going. I'm always striving to go higher and higher . . . to do what no one else has ever done. Records are a way of motivating me."
No matter what the record may be.