SALT LAKE CITY -- Somehow, the ball wound up in Brandin Cooks' hands. And it stuck.
And soon, Oregon State's junior receiver was bounding about in the end zone, celebrating with teammates after the Beavers' 51-48 overtime victory over Utah Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Cooks' six-yard touchdown reception in the extra session put the capper on one of the wildest games in Oregon State history and had 13th-year coach Mike Riley all smiles as he met with the media afterward.
"I would say I'm too old for this, but I'm not going to," said Riley, 60, after the Beavers (2-1) beat Utah (2-1) in the Pac-12 opener for both schools. "Actually, the time of your life is what it is.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world. It would have been a hard loss, but when you have kids out there playing like that, there's no better feeling."
The game was a classic, one that ended four minutes before midnight Mountain Time. It was a shootout that saw 99 points and 1,030 yards of total offense on an emotional night when OSU running back Storm Woods was knocked unconscious and taken from the field in an ambulance. It wasn't over until Cooks hushed a Rice-Eccles crowd of 45,221 with his catch at the back of the end zone in overtime.
Sean Mannion's pass went through a couple of defenders -- and was tipped by Utah nickel back Justin Thomas -- before it hit the hands of Cooks, the intended receiver, who somehow held on.
"I saw the ball come out of Sean's hand and I saw it deflect," said Cooks, who caught nine passes and set career highs in receiving yardage (210) and TD receptions (three). "After that, I tried to focus. It was a quick one."
Mannion, who threw for a career-high 443 yards and matched the school record with five TD passes, said the Beavers had worked on the play all week especially for the coverage Utah presents.
"We know Utah likes to play right on the goal line," Mannion said. "We tried to run Brandin toward the back line."
At first, Mannion feared interception.
"I was horrified with myself for one second, and then I realized Brandin caught it," OSU's junior quarterback said. "Luckily it worked. Not my proudest throw ever, but if it's a game-winner, I'll take it."
Oregon State had won the coin flip before overtime and elected to have Utah go on offense first.
The Utes -- who had stormed back from a 27-10 third-quarter deficit and had scored 35 second-half points -- advanced only one yard in three plays and settled for a 41-yard Andy Phillips field goal to go ahead 41-38.
"That was huge for our defense to hold them to a field goal," Mannion said. "We knew we could win the game with a touchdown, and we were a little calmer."
On first down, Mannion -- who had diced up the Utah defense all night through the air on another night when the OSU run game was nonexistent -- found Kevin Cummings for 15 yards and a first-and-goal at the Utah 10.
After a four-yard gain on a dump-off pass to running back Terron Ward, Mannion launched the game-winner to Cooks.
"He threw a perfect ball," Cooks said despite his quarterback's semi-apology.
Cooks and Mannion shared the hero's role with Richard Mullaney, who established career highs in receptions (seven) and receiving yardage (142) and scored a touchdown in his breakout game.
The sophomore receiver made the biggest play of the game after Utah had driven 85 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown and grab a 38-37 lead with 4:25 remaining.
Oregon State was up against it with fourth-and-nine from its own 22 when Mannion threw one up that Mullaney latched onto with a fingertip catch for 13 yards and a first down.
"The game was on the line," Mullaney said. "I just knew when the ball was in the air I had to come down with it."
After a Utah penalty, Mullaney made another big catch on the next play, going over his shoulder to haul one in for 34 yards to the Utah 16.
"Unbelievable," Mannion said of Mullaney's performance. "I don't want to say he played out of his mind, because we know how good he can be, but those two grabs and the touchdown earlier I can't say enough about the guy."
"I know what kind of player he is," Cooks said. "Guys outside our team probably didn't know, but now they know."
Three plays after Mullaney's 34-yard reception, on third-and-12 from the 18, Mannion found Cooks in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown with 2:29 left in regulation. Mannion followed by hitting Connor Hamlett for a two-point conversion, and the Beavers led 45-38.
"I almost ran myself out of breath going over to Brandin after that touchdown," Mannion said. "I could hardly breathe."
Mannion should have saved his energy. There was too much time left for Utah's offense, which scored five touchdowns in the second half as it put together both the running and passing games.
Oregon State's defense stuffed Utah in the first quarter, holding the Utes without a first down and with 12 yards total offense in the first quarter. By halftime, the Utes still had only six yards on the ground. But quarterback Travis Wilson -- who finished with 279 yards and two touchdowns passing and 142 yards and three scores running -- and tailback James Poole kicked into gear after intermission.
"They had the whole thing going," Riley said. "They were throwing the ball well, they were making catches, they were hitting angles, the screen game was going for them, and the zone-read stuff was working."
Oregon State was one-dimensional again, gaining only 48 yards rushing for the game. But Mannion kept the aerial attack flowing, and OSU's defense came up with three big interceptions. Two were by cornerback Steven Nelson and the third was turned into a pick-six by Sean Martin to give the Beavers a 27-10 advantage less than a minute into the third quarter.
"What ended up being the difference in the game was how we played defensively early and then getting those turnovers," Riley said. "We were having a hard time running the ball. Somehow we found a way to make some plays.
"It was pretty neat how everybody battled out there. It was really a gutsy game. Their team, too. They played like crazy. But our kids would just not lose."
Woods went down with Oregon State ahead 37-31 in the fourth quarter. The 6-foot, 205-pound sophomore was kneed in the back of the helmet by a Utah defender while pass-blocking. He lay prone on the field during an eight-minute delay before finally giving a thumb's up gesture to teammates while being loaded into the ambulance.
"That takes the wind out of you," Riley said. "Everybody was worried. When the doctors and trainer came over and said he was responsive and moving, everybody's mood lightened and we started playing."
Cooks, Woods' closest friend on the team, said he drew extra inspiration from his fallen teammate.
"If Storm was here, he'd fight his tail off," Cooks reasoned. "We had to finish that (victory) for him."
Oregon State jumped ahead 13-0 on a pair of Trevor Romaine field goals and a 17-yard Mullaney touchdown catch after a beautifully thrown ball by Mannion on a fade route.
It was 20-10 at the half, and then on the first possession of the third quarter, OSU's Martin stunned the Rice-Eccles faithful by intercepting a Wilson pass and taking it 27 yards to the house for a 27-10 Oregon State lead.
But the Utes struck back like lightning on its next possession. On first down, Poole -- who rushed for 111 of his 117 yards after the break -- broke through the line for 28 yards. Three plays later, Wilson faked a handoff, raced around left end and broke free for 35 yards and a TD, bringing the Utes back to within 27-17 with 12:49 to go in the quarter.
After an Oregon State punt, Utah got on the move again. The Utes marched 80 yards in 11 plays, Poole scoring from the 1-yard line to close it to 27-24 with 4:49 remaining in the period.
The Beavers punted again, and Utah moved from its 33 to the OSU 43. On third-and-six, Nelson stepped in and intercepted a Wilson aerial, returning it to the Beavers' 45.
On first down, Mannion found Cooks on an inside screen pass. Cooks crossed field and tiptoed down the left sidelines for a 55-yard TD reception and a 34-24 edge.
It took Utah no time at all to draw closer. The Utes moved 64 yards in five plays, the final 15 yards on a screen pass from Wilson to Lucky Radley to make it 34-31 with 13:41 to go.
Then it was time for some razzle-dazzle. On fourth-and-inches at the Utah 45, Ward took a handoff, pitched the ball back to Mannion, who threw 48 yards to a wide-open Cooks at the Utah 7.
"It was like an 11th-hour thing," Mannion said. Riley "first came with a different play. When he changed it (after a timeout), everyone was fired up about it."
"That was a crunch time in the game the way (the Utes) were playing," the OSU coach said. "If we don't make this first down, we might not see the ball again. We called a running play first and then we called timeout. I thought, 'Let's go for it,' and away we went."
But Utah's defense stiffened, and on fourth-and-2, the Beavers settled for a 20-yard Romaine field goal and a 37-31 advantage with 10:01 on the clock. That set the scene for one of the most frantic finishes in Oregon State history. At the end, the Beavers were elated, the Utes crestfallen.
"It's unfortunate somebody had to lose," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham reflected, "especially that it had to be us."
When the Utes trailed 27-10, "the look in their eyes was that they believed," Whittingham said. "They spilt their guts out tonight and fell one play short."
Mannion completed 27 of 44 passes with no interceptions and was sacked only once.
"It's not all on the defensive backs," said Utah's Jason Whittingham, the coach's nephew and a sophomore defensive end who was in on eight tackles. "The front and the linebackers' job is to get the quarterback, and (Mannion) was comfortable all night in the pocket."
In the second half, Wilson ran for all of his 142 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 132 yards and another score. The Utah offense looked nearly unstoppable after intermission.
"It's not the way we wanted it, but we'll take the win against a very good Utah team," said OSU defensive end Dylan Wynn, who had six tackles, including two for loss. "They wore down our defense. We just did not execute what we needed to do. We got tired, and when you get tired, fundamentals start to break down.
"We're just fortunate we have such a great offense and they were able to save us in this game. Giving up (48) points is absolutely unacceptable, but I give (the Utes) credit. They have an amazing quarterback and a very good offense."
Riley knows the difference between starting the season 2-1 and 1-2.
"It's really big," he said. "You don't want to fall in a hole early. It's a chance to build some momentum, and it's great to win the opening conference game.
"Maybe this is an indicator of how the conference is going to be this year. It's going to be really competitive."
NOTES: After going to the hospital for observation, Woods was released and allowed to fly home with the Oregon State team early Sunday morning. Cooks moved up on the OSU career list in 100-yard games (seven, tied for sixth), touchdown receptions (15, tied for seventh) and receiving yardage (2,040, eighth). Mannion became the first player in OSU history to pass for 350 yards or more in three straight games. He has thrown for 1,237 yards in three games and has moved into fourth place on the OSU career list in TD passes with 43. His 443-yard performance is No. 4 on the school single-game list. Romaine 49-yard field goal in the second quarter was a career long. He was 3 for 3 and has made 36 in his career, moving into a tie for fourth place on the OSU list. the Beavers were 7 for 15 on third-down conversions, making first down on third-and-eight or longer four times. "We're real happy we were able to extend drives," Mannion said, "but when you put yourself in third-and-long, it says you need to do more on first and second down." Poole rushed for a career-high 117 yards and caught a team-high seven passes for 70 yards. Utah won the total offense battle 539-491. The Utes had 153 yards in the first half and 385 after intermission. It was Oregon State's first overtime win since a 38-31 victory over Oregon in 2007. OSU is 11-6-1 all-time against Utah. Riley is 83-68 as a head coach at Oregon State, including 75-54 in his second stint.
SCORE BY PERIODS
Oregon State 10 10 14 11 6 -- 51
Utah 0 10 14 21 3 -- 48
OSU -- Trevor Romaine 36 FG 11:21
OSU -- Richard Mullaney 17 pass from Sean Mannion (Romaine kick) 1:58
OSU -- Romaine 49 FG 13:09
UTAH -- Dres Anderson 49 pass from Travis Wilson (Andy Phillips kick) 10:03
OSU -- Connor Hamlett 7 pass from Mannion (Romaine kick) 3:20
UTAH -- Phillips 27 FG :20
OSU -- Sean Martin 27 interception return (Romaine kick) 14:06
UTAH -- Wilson 35 run (Phillips kick) 12:49
UTAH -- James Poole 1 run (Phillips kick) 4:49
OSU -- Brandin Cooks 55 pass (Romaine kick) 1:04
UTAH -- Lucky Radley 15 pass from Wilson (Phillips kick) 13:41
OSU -- Romaine 20 FG 10:01
UTAH -- Wilson 24 run (Phillips kick) 4:25
OSU -- Cooks 18 pass from Mannion (Hamlett pass from Mannion) 2:29
UTAH -- Wilson 9 run (Phillips kick) :21
UTAH -- Phillips 41 FG
OSU -- Cooks 6 pass from Mannion
ATT. -- 45,221