Second-quarter explosion keys victory over Arizona
CORVALLIS - For the first time since last Nov. 20, Mike Riley got to lead his players in a 'Hip Hip Hooray!' cheer.
'I was kind of rusty,' laughed the Oregon State coach after the Beavers' 37-27 victory over Arizona Saturday at Reser Stadium.
The cheer is a locker-room tradition after Beaver victories during the Riley era.
It had been a long time.
A six-game losing streak dating to OSU's 36-7 upset of 20th-ranked Southern Cal is now history.
It was the first win for an Oregon State team (1-4 overall, 1-2 in Pac-10 play) that was the last BCS conference team in the nation to taste victory this season. The pressure had been mounting as the Beavers entered Saturday's Desperation Bowl against an opponent in similarly dire straits - Arizona (1-5, 0-4).
'It was the elephant in the room,' said safety Lance Mitchell, who had a huge day with seven tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a reception for first down on a fake punt. 'We needed to get a win. We did that today. It's going to help us going forward.'
The Beavers jumped to a 30-6 third-quarter lead, saw Arizona climb to within 30-27 early in the fourth quarter, then put together a clutch touchdown drive and a goal-line stand in the game's final minutes.
'We threw all the cards in the deck,' said OSU running back Jovan Stevenson, who rushed for 99 yards on 17 carries. 'People played. Everybody showed up. We didn't let our record dictate how we played. We just played our game.'
Mitchell, one of nine senior starters on a young Oregon State team, considers the game educational.
'It's going to grow from here,' he said. 'This game showed us how to win. It's hard to get out there and play without winning. To learn how to win is a big part of it. You have to know how to finish a game.'
From Oregon State's disastrous season-opening defeat to Sacramento State to last Saturday's 35-20 loss at nationally ranked Arizona State, Riley figures his players have been on a learning curve.
'There's no doubt about it, from game one from today, this team has improved every week,' the OSU coach said. 'I'm really proud of that.
'I'm glad we won. It's good for these kids. All the parts of the game - offense, defense, special teams - came into play. We made it a little harder on ourselves than needed to be, but I give (the Wildcats) credit. They came back in the second half, just as they've done all season.'
Arizona quarterback Nick Foles completed 31 of 45 passes for 378 yards, but for only one touchdown. Oregon State's defense got four takeaways - two Foles interceptions and two fumbles - and held the Wildcats to 53 rushing yards.
Oregon State's offense, meanwhile, put together a reasonably balanced attack. Sean Mannion connected on 32 of 41 passes for 267 yards and two TDs and Jovan Stevenson rushed for 99 yards and a score on 17 carries as the Beavers earned a net 128 yards on the ground.
Then there were special teams, a bugaboo in Oregon State's loss at Arizona State. It was quite the opposite Saturday. The Beavers dominated the Wildcats' specialty units in a number of ways, among them:
• Trevor Romaine field goals of 37, 40 and 20 yards. Arizona, meanwhile, missed a medium-range field goal and an extra point.
• A blocked punt and 41-yard return for a second-quarter touchdown by OSU's Clayton York.
• A pass completion for a first down to Mitchell from Johnny Hekker on a fake punt.
• A muffed ball on a 'pooch' kickoff that the Beavers recovered and converted into a Romaine 3-pointer on the final play of the first half.
• A 63-yard rugby-style punt by Hekker that bounced dead at the Arizona 5-yard line in the fourth quarter.
'Probably the difference in the game,' Riley said.
Arizona coach Mike Stoops, his voice hoarse after an afternoon spent berating officials, wasn't quite so fond of the disparity in performance by the teams' special teams.
'Our kicking game was abyssmal, to say the least,' Stoops said. 'I don't know what to think about (it) right now. It totally discombobulates my thinking on everything.
'We keep giving (opponents) chances, but at some points it becomes ridiculous.'
Oregon State had scored 26 collective points in the first half of its first four games. The Beavers exploded for 27 points in the second quarter alone to seize a 27-6 lead at the half.
It was 30-6 when Arizona mounted its comeback.
'We knew they were going to come back,' Mitchell said. 'Foles is talented. (The Wildcats) are going to get theirs. They're going to make their plays, because that's who they are. They pass the ball; they're a good offense.'
It looked like the Wildcats were dead when Foles was hammered to the turf by OSU defensive tackle Andrew Seumalo as he released a pass to Jurin Criner that resulted in a 47-yard pass play to the Beavers' 13-yard line. Foles lay there for a couple of minutes, tended by Arizona's medical staff, before being helped off the field and replaced by Bryson Beirne for one play.
On the next play, though, Keola Antolin burst up the middle for 13 yards and a touchdown. Foles, returning after sitting out a play, hit David Douglas for the two-point conversion, drawing Arizona to within 30-14 with 4:45 to play in the period.
On Oregon State's next play from scrimmage, Mannion's pass was tipped and intercepted by Shaquille Richardson, who returned it 28 yards for a TD. The two-point conversion pass attempt failed, but suddenly, the Wildcats were trailing 30-20 with 4:37 still left in the third quarter.
'Bang!' Riley said. 'One big turnover and they're right back in it.'
Oregon State responded with a drive that moved from its own 20 to the Arizona 14. Mannion hit James Rodgers on a 14-yard TD pass, but the play was nullified by a holding call on tackle Colin Kelly. On the next play, Mannion overthrew Markus Wheaton on what would have been a TD pass. When Romaine's 42-yard field goal attempt missed wide left, the Wildcats had the momentum.
'I thought, 'Whoa, that might come back to haunt us,' ' Riley said.
On its next possession, Arizona marched 75 yards in 10 plays, Ka'Deem Carey carrying the final yard for a TD. With 11:56 yet to play, the Wildcats were within 30-27 and smelling victory.
Oregon State went three-and-out, but Hekker's rugby-style punt rolled forever and ended up on the Arizona 5-yard line, covering 63 yards.
The Wildcats went three-and-out, too, and under pressure - and possibly on a fake-punt play - Kyle Duganozic's dribbling punt carried only 30 yards to the OSU 43. Gut-check time for the Oregon State offense.
'It was like, 'OK, let's see what you got,' Riley said.
The Beavers answered, moving to the Arizona 2-yard line, where the game's moment of truth came on fourth down.
'I thought we might as well go for (a touchdown instead of a field goal),' Riley said. 'A field goal would give us a six-point lead; you get beat if they score a touchdown.'
After an Arizona timeout, Mannion rolled right, averted an Arizona pass-rusher and rifled the ball to Joe Halahuni for the TD - the tight end's second of the game - to push the Beavers ahead 37-27 with 5:22 remaining.
The pass, low and a scorcher, was reminiscent of the one Ryan Katz fired at Halahuni that would have won the game at Washington last season. He dropped that one. He hung on this time.
'I pretty much knew the ball was going to come to me,' Halahuni said. 'I wanted to make the play to seal the win.
'I ran a shallow route, three yards across the field. I got hit by a D-tackle, and the (middle linebacker) was trying to jam me up. I saw Sean scrambling. Scramble rules are, if the play's not dead, keep moving. I went to the inside and Sean stayed with the play and made a good throw.'
Halahuni was the second option on the play.
'We've run (the play) a lot in practice,' Mannion said. 'We felt really good about it. We just tried to execute.
'Joe made a great play on it. that's a tough catch - low ball on the goal-line. He held on; it was an unbelievable play.'
There was plenty of time left, though. Arizona responded by moving from its 20 to the OSU 1-yard line. On third-and-goal from there, Antolin was stopped for a one-yard loss. On fourth-and-goal from the 2, Foles' pass intended for Dan Buckner was knocked away by OSU's Jordan Poyer at the goal line. It was the Wildcats' last real chance.
After a scoreless first quarter, Oregon State put together the drive of its season thus far. Keeping the ball for 8 minutes, 48 seconds, the Beavers went 92 yards on 17 plays, mixing the run and the pass. Stevenson carried the final yard untouched for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 11:38 let in the second period.
Then York - a junior walk-on from Redmond who plays a little fullback and a lot on special teams - blocked a Duganozic punt, picked it up at the Arizona 7 and ran the ball into the end zone for a TD and a 14-0 edge with 8:56 to go in the second period.
'The game plan was to rush the 'A' gaps,' York said. 'It wasn't specifically designed to be a block, but if you get through, put your hands up and see if you can get it.
'I was just lucky I was close enough to get to it. Then the ball was out there, and I got to it first.'
Arizona responded with a sterling drive of its own, going 80 yards in seven plays. Buckner beat Poyer for a 28-yard TD reception in the corner of the end zone. Alex Zendejas missed the conversion, leaving the Beavers ahead 14-6 with 6:24 left before half.
On the next possession, Oregon State went to a little trickery on fourth-and-3 from the Arizona 49. From punt formation, Hekker rolled left and threw to Mitchell, who went 13 yards for a first down.
'It felt right,' Riley said of the call. 'I thought it was going to be open, so we put it in Hekker's and Mitchell's hands to get the job done.'
On third down from the Arizona 20, Mannion overthrew a wide-open Wheaton in the end zone. Oregon State settled for a 37-yard Romaine field goal and a 17-6 edge with 2:26 to go before intermission.
On the Wildcats' next series, Foles' arm was hit by OSU's Scott Crichton as he threw a pass, which was intercepted by Michael Doctor and returned five yards to the Arizona 39.
On second-and-goal from the 3, Mannion evaded the rush and found Halahuni for a TD pass, pushing the Beavers ahead 24-6 with 16 seconds still on the clock.
On the ensuing kickoff, Romaine sent a pooch kick up the middle for the sole purpose of cutting down the chances of an Arizona return. The Wildcats couldn't handle the ball, though, and OSU's Dylan Wynn recovered the muff at the Arizona 36.
After a 13-yard pass from Mannion to Jordan Jenkins, Romaine nailed a 40-yard field goal, and the Beavers went into halftime with a 27-6 lead.
Arizona's Daniel Jenkins gave Oregon State another opportunity when he fumbled on the Wildcats' first possession of the third quarter, Mitchell recovering at the OSU 41. The Beavers went three-and-out, though, and were forced to punt.
On Arizona's next play, Foles' bomb intended for David Douglas was intercepted by Mitchell - who promptly was flagged 15 yards for taunting. The Beavers moved from their own 21 to the Arizona 3, with Romaine booting his third 3-pointer of the game to boost the lead to 30-6 with 7:28 left in the quarter.
Soon began the Arizona rally. The Beavers held on, though. Now there's a chance for a winning streak as they play host to Brigham Young next Saturday.
'We got our first win under our belts, but that doesn't mean we're satisfied,' Halahuni said. 'We have to get one next week, too.'
Riley is glad the Beavers' work ethic in recent week was rewarded by victory.
'It's the result of continuing to work,' the OSU coach said. 'That's what we're supposed to do, right? But when you're losing, it's easier said than done. There are a lot of distractions.
'The guys didn't let all that other stuff get in the way of this game. Now we'll see what happens in the future.'
NOTES - Oregon State has won 11 of its last 13 meetings with Arizona. The Wildcats, who beat Division I-AA Northern Arizona in their season opener, have lost 10 straight contests against Division I-A opponents dating to last season. ... OSU injuries in the game: Stevenson (concussion-like syndromes), linebacker Cameron Collins (strained shoulder) and tight end Colby Prince (knee contusion). ... In its first four games, Oregon State had been outscored 77-26 in the first half, including 63-17 in the second quarter. ... The 27 second-quarter points were the most OSU has scored in a quarter since getting 28 in the second quarter of the 2003 game against Arizona. ... The Beavers attempted a reverse pass in the second quarter, with Brandin Cooks' taking a pitch from Mannion and throwing to Wheaton. It was incomplete. ... York's return of a blocked punt for a touchdown was Oregon State's first since Damola Adeniji did it against Washington State in 2008.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Arizona 0 6 14 7 - 27
Oregon State 0 27 3 7 - 37
OSU - Jovan Stevenson 1 run (Trevor Romaine kick) 11:38.
OSU - Clayton York 41 blocked punt return (Romaine kick) 8:56.
ARIZ - Dan Buckner 28 pass from Nick Foles (kick failed) 6:24.
OSU - Romaine 37 field goal 2:26.
OSU - Joe Halahuni 3 pass from Sean Mannion (Romaine kick) :16.
OSU - Romaine 40 field goal 0:00.
OSU - Romaine 20 field goal 7:28.
ARIZ - Keola Antolin 13 run (David Douglas pass from Foles) 4:45.
ARIZ - Shaquille Richardson 28 interception return (pass failed) 4:37.
ARIZ - Ka'Deem Carey 1 run (John Bonano kick) 11:56.
OSU - Halahuni 2 pass from Mannion (Romaine kick) 5:22.
ATT. - 40,403.