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Rain on the parade: Oregon State hangs with Washington, but big step falls short
The Beavers kept it close and are heading to a bowl game — and that's just not good enough anymore.
CORVALLIS — The public address announcer’s last ditch effort was ultimately futile, an attempt to revive the collective mood at Reser Stadium late Saturday night falling on deaf, wind-whipped ears.
“For the third consecutive season, the Beavers are bowl eligible,” the announcer bellowed over a rain-soaked field surrounded by already half-drained stands.
Thing is, that just doesn’t drum up much excitement around these parts anymore.
Oregon State was bowl-eligible last week after demolishing Stanford, its standing unbothered by the outcome against No. 5 Washington this week.
No, for the Beavers, Saturday was supposed to be about something more than the promise of a festive bowl game backed by a forgettable sponsor. The billing: A top-11 matchup with postseason implications. Perhaps the highest profile game this program’s played in since its trusted head coach, Jonathan Smith, was its beloved quarterback.
“These are the types of games we want to create,” said Smith.
Although he’d like to manufacture a different outcome next time, both for his Beavers, now 8-3 and mathematically eliminated from the conference championship game in lieu of a 22-20 loss to the Huskies, and for those fans who endured a brutal rainstorm in Reser the same way they’d for so long endured the losing.
“That team just knows how to win,” Smith said of Washington, which carries the nation’s second longest win streak, behind only Georgia. “Obviously this ain't a fluke for how many wins they've ripped off in a row.”
It'd be hard to call this Beavers team a fluke, either. Saturday’s stage was only what it was because of the 180-degree-flip the program has undergone with Smith. Even in defeat, the game possessed charactics of many of his biggest wins as head coach in Corvallis.
Oregon State shrunk the game, controlling the ball for 15 minutes longer than the unblemished Huskies and out-gaining their offense, which spent the first half of the season atop the nation, both in prestige and production.
The Beavers played “their brand of football.” In other words, they ran the ball. A lot. They came away with points every time they entered the redzone and got sharper as the game rolled on.
They had their miscues. A self-inflicted safety near the end of the first quarter looms large in a game deciding by exactly two points. With the game tied, 7-7, and Oregon State punting from its own territory, a misfired long snap shot over the head of Beavers’ punter Josh Green, who had the wherewithal to boot the ball out of the endzone, all but preventing five more points for the opposition.
The passing game was hampered, often by the weather, and sometimes by execution. Beavers’ receivers dropped several passes and senior quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was off target more often than not. He threw two interceptions, both to Huskies’ corner Jabbar Muhammed.
It all led to a double-digit deficit late in the second quarter, and even that wasn’t entirely unlike this program. See: The 38-34 win over Oregon last season.
It looked largely over by half, in fact, with the Beavers trailing 22-10. Huskies’ quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who at one point in the first half missed nine consecutive throws, and later finished a pedestrian 13-of-28 for 162 yards, braced the downpour with his deliverance of two touchdown throws to star wideout Rome Odunze, both on the far side of the east end zone, and a third score with his own legs from five yards out.
But it was during the Beavers second possession of the second half, following Uiagalelei’s interception to open the third quarter, in which it looked like they had the potential to stamp the game as a full-blown comeback.
With 11:25 left in the third, Oregon State embarked on a march that lasted 16 plays, traversed 78 yards and drained nine minutes and 56 seconds off the clock. Sophomore running back Damien Martinez’s five-yard touchdown cemented the journey as the second-longest scoring drive ever surrendered by Washington.
Generally, against the Huskies, good things happened for the Beavers when they kept the ball on the ground, even when the rain eventually slowed for a few minutes late in the game. Martinez was a workhorse, bullying the Huskies and their short-handed secondary for 123 yards and a pair of scores.
Uiagalelei completed just 15-of-31 passes for 166 yards, but added 53 rushing on six carries, twice converting on 4th-and-short against the Huskies defense, once to keep the clock-killing touchdown drive alive and later to spur an eventual field goal early in the fourth.
The latter could be remembered as one of his defining players in a Beavers’ uniform. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder caught the snap and angled towards a defense well-aware who was getting the ball before it the play had begun. Uiagalelei shouldered a would-be tackler near the line of scrimmage, stumbling for a few yards, only to then regain his balance, spin untouched past a safety, and pick up a dozen more before finally dragging several Huskies to the turf with him.
Had Oregon State been in a more manageable 4th-down situation with 2:08 remaining, trailing 22-20 at midfield, Uiagalelei may well have taken one final keeper, and the Beavers may well have won.
Instead, they faced 4th-and-5. Uiagalelei dropped back, launched the ball off his back foot, and sailed a pass over the head of two Huskies defenders.
“I gotta give somebody a chance there,” the quarterback said of a pass intended for tight end Jack Velling that would have put Oregon State in field goal range.
The miss handed Washington a chance to close it out, and just as the Beavers had crawled back from double-digits in the only way they seem to know how, the Huskies delivered the dagger in a manner they’ve now executed countless times.
On 3rd-and-3, the Beavers having already exhausted its timeouts and the Huskies hesitant to take the ball out of their best players’ hands, Penix laced a back-shoulder throw to Odunze, who hauled in the pass 19 yards down the sideline, putting the game on ice.
“At the end of the day man,” said Uiagalelei, “this is not what we all pictured. Not what any of us wanted.”
Asked how this year, the follow-up act of a 10-win season last year and one in which the Beavers have found themselves on the wrong side of three games by a collective eight points, will be remembered, Smith said it’s “tough to say.”
It’s Eugene next week for Oregon State, where No. 6 Oregon hungrily awaits a chance to right the wrongs of an all-time collapse one year ago in Reser. Smith and his players harped postgame that priority number one for this team after Saturday’s letdown was to avoid letting one loss become two.
Either way, they’ll be two-score underdogs in their season-finale.
There will be a bowl game for these Beavers, too, even if the announcement of such a spectacle doesn’t exactly stir this fanbase the way it might’ve in past years. Because while the high-note of last season breathed new life into this program, the unfortunate reality of success is that there’s always something more to chase.
— Shane Hoffmann, for The I-5 Corridor
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