Oh so close, but no cigar for Beavers
CORVALLIS — For the second straight game, opportunity stared Oregon State in the face.
And for the second time, the Beavers blinked.
The difference between victory and defeat can be the length of a gnat's eyelash, as it was in Thursday night's 15-14 gut-wrenching loss to 20th-ranked Stanford at Reser Stadium.
Piggybacked with Oregon State's 36-33 loss to Colorado 11 days before, the gates of justice have slammed into the the guys in orange and black twice in a row.
"We should have won that game," OSU running back Ryan Nall said, his look glum as he met with the media afterward. "Two games in a row, we're this close to making it a victory.
"One, two plays away. A series, a drive, a stop. We're that close."
The 22-point-underdog Beavers (1-7 overall, 0-5 in Pac-12 play) seemed on their way to a monumental upset in the closing minutes Thursday night, leading 14-9 with the ball first-and-10 on their 43-yard line. One more first down would wrap it in a bow.
Then Nall fumbled, Stanford tackle Harrison Phillips knocking the ball loose and recovering it at the OSU 40 with 2:30 to play.
"I got the handoff and saw pressure in the middle," Nall said. "I tried to jump cut out of it. I don't know if I fully secured the ball. I didn't have two hands on it.
"I saw penetration. (Phillips) stuck his hand out and was on the ball. It just popped out. I tried to fight for it, but couldn't get it back."
Oregon State's defense — playing its most complete game in years — didn't buckle. It hadn't all night.
But Stanford found a way to win. On fourth-and-10 from the OSU 40, tight end Kaden Smith made a terrific grab of a Keller Chryst pass in traffic for 25 yards and a first down.
With 24 seconds left and the Cardinal second-and-goal from the 3, Chryst launched a fade to 6-3, 220-pound JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who made the grab over 5-9, 185-pound cornerback Shawn Wilson in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
Even with just 20 seconds to work with, the Beaver offense didn't give up, completing back-to-back passes to the Stanford 44. The game ended when Darell Garretson's Hail Mary attempt was intercepted just short of the Cardinal goal line as the final horn sounded.
Heartbreak, take two.
Without Heisman Trophy candidate/running back Bryce Love — who sat out the game with an injured ankle — the Cardinal got little done offensively, managing only 12 first downs, 81 yards rushing and 222 yards total offense.
It was a second straight oh-so-close defeat for the Beavers under interim coach Cory Hall, a radical departure from the five blowout losses with Gary Andersen at the helm.
"Not the outcome that we wanted — second game in a row," Hall said. "But the expectation has changed. Now you have the 20th-ranked team in the country come in. …. you can say Bryce Love wasn't there, but one player doesn't make a team.
"I (couldn't) care less about one player or about a team we face. Beaver football is changing. This is evidence of it."
The announced crowd was 30,912, and the turnstile count would surely have been less than that. But the students came out in full force, and the fans got into it as the Beavers provided them with something to cheer about.
Oregon transfer Thomas Tyner played before some large, supportive crowds at Autzen Stadium, but came away impressed with the scene Thursday night at Reser.
"The fans got us going tonight," said Tyner, who had his best game as a Beaver, rushing for 52 yards and an 18-yard touchdown on nine carries. "That was one of the loudest crowds I've ever heard.
"It's hard to walk away from a game like that. We've been so close. We know we had every right to win that game."
Stanford coach David Shaw said that was exactly what he had feared.
"The coaching staff and a lot of our older players tried to warn our guys about what it's like playing in this stadium," Shaw said. "The student section is loud and raucous, and they should be. I give a lot of credit to Coach Hall and his staff for getting those guys ready to play."
Oregon State was without a half-dozen injured players in its secondary, including three of four starters — cornerbacks Dwayne Williams and Xavier Crawford and safety David Norris.
The replacements rose to the occasion. Senior safety Landry Payne — with five career tackles — registered 10. Nickel-back Omar Hicks-Onu had five tackles, 1 1/2 tackles for loss and an interception. Wilson and true freshman Isaiah Dunn blanketed Stanford receivers all night.
"Those guys did a good job of understanding their roles," said Hall, who coaches the cornerbacks. "They're coming along nicely in their development."
Did the remaining OSU D-backs think they'd be in tough against the Cardinal?
"Not at all," said Hicks-Onu, a sophomore. "Coach 'Rush' (safeties coach John Rushing) and Coach Hall, they raised some dogs. We're going to eat, plain and simple."
Love's understudy — Central Catholic High grad Cameron Scarlett — rushed for 72 yards on 17 carries, but had few big holes to run through. Chryst completed 16 of 33 passes for 141 yards.
"The defense was outstanding," Nall said. "To hold those guys to that kind of yardage was amazing."
Nall rushed for 84 yards on 19 carries, but had the crucial fumble and was part of another giveaway late in the first half that gift-wrapped a field goal for the Cardinal that proved game-changing.
The Beavers appeared headed for a 7-3 halftime lead, taking the ball on 21 with 57 seconds left before the break. On first down, Garretson and Nall botched a read-option play and Stanford recovered the ball at the OSU 16.
"The ball got stuck in Darell's glove while he was trying to pull it," Nall said. "I didn't feel it, so I didn't clamp down all the way. I carried out the fake. I didn't even know the ball was on the ground until I heard everyone saying 'fumble.' It was miscommunication."
The Beaver defense held tough, but Jet Toner's 33-yard field goal cut the difference to 7-6 with 27 seconds left in intermission.
Oregon State extended its lead to 14-6 by by opening the third quarter with a six-play, 75 yard TD drive, aided by a pair of major Stanford penalties. Tyner took a handoff from Nall out of the wildcat formation, cut inside a block and raced 18 yards for the score, diving for the final four yards of real estate.
Stanford drove to the OSU 37, but on third-and-8, Chryst's pass was intercepted by the Hicks-Onu and the Beavers took possession at their 33.
The Beavers moved to the Stanford 34, from where Jordan Choukair's 52-yard field-goal was on target but just short. The Cardinal took the ball inside the OSU 30, and Toner nailed a 40-yard field goal to close the gap to 14-9 with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
Neither team did much offensively the rest of the way. Stanford (6-2, 5-1) got the final big break in the closing minutes and capitalized on it.
"Disappointed? Yes, but still encouraged, and still encouraging all of our players," Hall said. "The season is not a wash, because any time you're able to line up, put a helmet on and compete, that's always a blessing.
"I'm proud of our players. I'm not disappointed in one of them. (Stanford) is a great team. That was a great game. There were strides made tonight."
Hall said Oregon State's back-too-back performances signal a turnaround, even without a victory to show for it.
"This team expects to win, because they get it," he said. Afterward, the players "showed the right kind of emotion. Now it has to translate into the win-and-loss column.
"Those guys want to compete. They want to play, and they want to make Beaver Nation proud. That's one thing everybody should be encouraged by. They know they should have beat that team, just like we should have beaten Colorado."
But should-haves don't count in sports — at least in the record book.
"A loss is always tough," said OSU linebacker Jonathan Willis, who had 10 tackles, a sack and two tackles-for-loss. "We don't go in to lose. Nobody wants to finish a game with an 'L.'
"Every loss, it sucks. But we're going to take this pain and use it the next game and fight."
NOTES: Oregon State's next action is Nov. 4 at California. … Oregon State won the statistical battle, leading in first downs (20-12), rushing offense (138-81), total offense (264-222) and time of possession (32:46 to 27:14). … Garretson completed 13 of 21 passes for 126 yards. … Nall ran several times out of the wildcat. … Fred Lauina, a 315-pound offensive tackle, hauled in a backward pass from Garretson that covered eight yards to the Stanford 5 on the Beavers' first-half touchdown drive. … OSU linebacker Manase Hungalu had four pass breakups, the first a near interception that probably would have resulted in his second pick-six of the season. … The Beavers dodged a bullet early after Nick Porebski shanked a punt six yards, Stanford taking over at the OSU 28. But OSU's defense held tough, and Toner's 34-yard field-goal attempt was wide. … The Cardinal got on the board first via a 40-yard field goal by Toner with 12:57 left in the second quarter. … It was Stanford's fifth straight win this season and its eighth in a row in the series with Oregon State.
Stanford 0 6 3 6 — 15
Oregon State 0 7 7 0 — 14
STAN — Jet Toner 40 FG, 12:57
OSU — Darell Garretson 3 run (Jordan Choukair kick), 5:52
STAN — Toner 33 FG, :27
OSU — Tyner 18 run (Choukair kick), 11:55
STAN — Toner 40 FG, 1:10
STAN — JJ Arcega-Whiteside 3 pass from Keller Chryst (pass failed), :20
Att. — 30, 912