EGGERS: Beavers show they are bowl-worthy
EUGENE -- First thought about Oregon's 36-35 Civil War victory over Oregon State Friday at Autzen Stadium -- and I'll let Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti put it into words:
"You talk about a good football game," Aliotti said. "That was a fantastic game if you're a fan."
Maybe not so much if you're a Beaver, though there were no hanging heads after a game that will rank among the classics of the 120-year-old rivalry.
"It sucks," OSU quarterback Sean Mannion said when asked how he felt to lose the game. "There's nothing else to (say about) it.
"But there's a lot to feel good about, too. There was no quit in us. We came up short, but if every guy looks himself in the mirror (Saturday), nobody can say he didn't give it all."
The parting phrase came from the directive coach Mike Riley gave to his players at practice early this week after last Saturday's hide-your-eyes 69-27 loss to Washington before a disbelieving Reser Stadium crowd.
"I told them, 'Don't tell me about the score this week. I want to see us play football and then we'll look at the scoreboard,' " Riley said. "I was totally devastated by that (performance). Disappointed in myself, our staff, the team. It was absolutely essential we come out and play good football, play hard. I told them, 'Don't even look at the scoreboard until the end, because we have to play better and play with enthusiasm and passion.' "
After Friday's game, Riley told his troops, "Now at least we can all look in the mirror, and you can look at each other and be proud of your team."
My words: That's the way a Civil War game should be played.
It wasn't perfect on either side. There were eight fumbles, six turnovers, some missed opportunities and untimely penalties both ways.
But there was enough emotion to fill a Pentecostal church service on Sunday mornings. As my old pal Rasheed Wallace surely would have said, both teams played hard. Very hard.
"From where we came last Saturday to Friday night was a long way, which is a good thing," Riley said. Oregon State's players "can be very proud that they competed like crazy and played some very good football against a good team and made a lot of plays on both sides of the ball, as did Oregon. We just left them a little too much time to make plays at the end."
When true freshman Victor Bolden skirted into the end zone on a 25-yard fly sweep with 1:38 remaining to give Oregon State a 35-30 lead, it was truly reminiscent of James Rodgers' run -- same play, same distance -- in overtime of the Beavers' 38-31 win at Autzen in 2007.
"We just needed that fourth-down stop by Dorian Smith again," Riley said, the reference to the tackle by Smith, now an OSU grad assistant, on Oregon's Jonathan Stewart on the final play of the '07 extra session.
Problem was, after the kickoff, the 13th-ranked Ducks had 1:32 left to negotiate 83 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
"Giving our offense 1:40 is like giving most teams a whole quarter to score," Aliotti said.
The Ducks, with Marcus Mariota at the controls and dangerous Josh Huff working his magic against the OSU secondary, covered the needed real estate in nine plays. When Huff hauled in his third TD catch of the day for a 36-35 lead, there were 29 seconds to spare.
"We had to go out and make some plays," OSU cornerback Rashaad Reynolds said, "and I thought we were going to do it. But they made more plays than us on that last drive."
The Beavers were playing to win Friday, but they were also playing to restore the pride they played with during the first 10 games of the season after the Washington debacle.
"We are a resilient bunch," Reynolds said. The Ducks "are one of the top teams in the nation, and we played them good for 60 minutes. We didn't make enough plays to get that win, but against a high-octane offense like that, we competed. It was competition down to the wire."
Oregon State did it with -- you're reading this right -- a balanced offensive attack. The Beavers gained 545 yards total offense, including 231 on the ground. Terron Ward rushed for 145 yards on 17 carries, and Storm Woods added 73 yards and a TD on 15 attempts.
"We were saving that for this game," Riley told me, joking as he left the press availability after the game. "We had some things we thought could work with our run game against their defense, and we worked it into the game plan."
Said Mannion, who completed 29 of 47 passes for 314 yards in a redemptive personal performance, "Our O-line did an outstanding job up front. As the game went along, we had more and more success with it and we built from that."
Said Riley: "It makes you think of what might have been had we been able to be that balanced over the course of the year."
Mannion threw an interception in the end zone into double coverage going for Brandin Cooks on Oregon State's first drive, and the Ducks took a 14-0 lead into the second quarter as much of Beaver Nation thought, "Here we go again."
But no. The Beavers surged back, knotting the score at 17-17 at intermission.
"We got down early, and everybody else thought the game was over," Reynolds said. "But we kept pushing."
When Bolden found paydirt to give the visitors a five-point lead inside two minutes to play, Riley was wishing the clock had run faster.
"We were starting to burn the clock, trying to get it down, because we were going to score," Riley said. "I felt real good about scoring. I didn't know if it'd be a kick or a touchdown."
So there was heartache over the loss, but not the effort.
"It hurts a lot," Reynolds said. "Words can't describe how much it hurts. But I'm proud of my guys. We worked, we fought."
After the Washington game, I wasn't sure whether this Oregon State team deserved a bowl game.
I'll say this: After the Beavers finished the regular season "half-and-half," in the words of Cooks -- who had another terrific game with 10 catches for 110 yards -- they deserve to go bowling, and they will.
"We're going to go somewhere," athletic director Bob De Carolis said before the game.
There are nine bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams and seven slots. But there are also seven or eight bowl games that will be looking for participating teams. Some of them will be happy to have a Pac-12 team to feature.
"We're going to be in a bowl game," Riley said. "Somebody wants this team in a bowl game."
A week ago, I wouldn't have seconded that notion.
Now I say, hear hear.