Cougars' comeback leaves Beavers in a world of hurt
PULLMAN, Washington — How fun it would have been had Oregon State pulled off its own rendition of "The Play," lateraling its way to a touchdown on the final kickoff to emulate California's astonishing victory over Stanford in 1982.
Alas, Washington State's band wasn't on the field, there was no trombone player to run over, and the final player to touch the ball got tackled way back at the OSU 15.
So it goes into the book this way: Cougars 54, Beavers 53.
Stings any way you say it, Beaver Nation.
"I don't have any words for it," OSU quarterback Jake Luton said quietly as he met with the media. "It hurts a lot."
Max Borghi's 2-yard touchdown run with two seconds left capped a comeback for the ages as Washington State tore the hearts out of the Beavers on Saturday night at Martin Stadium.
Oregon State (5-6 overall, 4-4 in Pac-12 play) seized a 53-42 lead with 4:17 remaining before the Cougars (6-5, 3-5) rallled for a pair of touchdowns in the final 2:10 to clinch bowl eligibility for the fifh straight year.
The Beavers now need to beat Oregon at Autzen Stadium next Saturday to secure a bowl berth for the first time in six years.
"This group has always responded throughout the year," OSU coach Jonathan Smith said. "They've had some (lows) and bounced back."
Getting over this one, though, will take an extra dose of resilience.
Oregon State compiled 601 yards total offense. Luton threw for a career-high 408 yards and matched his career high with five touchdown passes. Jermar Jefferson rushed for 132 yards and two TDs and caught three passes for 52 yards and two more scores. The Beavers won the turnover battle 5-1, scored 29 points in the fourth quarter — and still lost.
"It seemed like we almost did everything to lose," Borghi said, "but we came out of it with a win."
Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon — the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week — will get to keep the plaque for another week after completing 50 of 70 passes for 606 yards and six touchdowns.
And yet the Beavers were at the precipice of the program's biggest victory in six years after Jefferson scored on a 2-yard run for an 11-point advantage with 4:17 left.
"We were in a good position, but we knew how good their offense is, how quick they can score," Luton said. "We knew it wasn't over."
Washington State drove 75 yards in seven plays for a touchdown with 2:10 to go, but its pass attempt for the two-point conversion failed. OSU's lead was 53-48, and the Cougars would need a touchdown to win.
They tried the expected onside kick, which failed when Kolby Taylor smothered the ball at the Wazzu 49. One first down was all the Beavers needed for victory. They gained six yards on three plays and, on fourth-and-4 with 1:14, went for the kill. But tight end Teagan Quitoriano couldn't haul in Luton's high pass.
"Convert that fourth down and you win the game," Smith said. "We were going to chase the win, and just didn't get it."
The Cougars took over, first-and-10 at their 43 with no timeouts left and 1:10 on the clock. It took them 10 plays and 1:08 to get into the end zone.
On fourth-and-8 from the OSU 43, Gordon hit Tay Martin for 13 yards and a first down. On third-and-10 from the OSU 30, Gordon connected with Easop Winston for 20 yards to the OSU 10.
With eight seconds left, Beaver safety David Morris was called for pass interference defending Brandon Arconado in the end zone, giving the Cougars first-and-goal at the 2 with four seconds to play.
After an Oregon State timeout, Gordon handed the ball to Borghi, who walked into the end zone for what amounted to a walk-off win. Borghi was also able to fulfill the guarantee of victory he issued last week after WSU's 49-22 rout of Stanford.
"It feels good," the 5-10, 195-pound sophomore running back said. "I needed to back myself up. I was confident in myself and confident in my team, for sure."
The Cougars' initial plan was to pass on the final play, and they were set up with triplicate receivers on the left side. Gordon audibled when he saw how the Beavers had stacked the outside with pass defenders and left the middle of the line exposed.
"We had a real soft box on that last play," Gordon said. "They were ready for a pass. They thought we were going to throw to that trip side. I was like, 'Geez, we're going to walk in if we run it.' I ran it by Max, and he was like, 'Hurry up, check off, run it, let's go.' I was like, 'Let's do it,' and we found the end zone."
Washington State survived despite the five turnovers — three Gordon interceptions and a pair of fumbles.
"Offensively, we played well a lot of the time, other than the turnovers," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "One of the quickest ways to have a game like this is to screw some things up along the way. We created a bunch of adversity for ourselves in the fourth quarter and then clawed our way out of it.
"We played hard, with a fair amount of dumbness mixed in there. Tough and dumb is better than soft and smart."
Oregon State led 24-21 after a 47-yard field goal by true freshman Everett Hayes in the closing seconds of the first half. But Washington State took control in the third quarter, going ahead 35-24 late in the quarter and threatening to run away with things. The Beavers answered, scoring four touchdowns in the first 11 minutes of the final period — including three in a span of 3:15 — to push the Cougars to the brink of defeat.
"You never give up," Gordon said. "You never know when a game is over. I'm real happy we were the grittier team through all the ups and downs tonight."
Oregon State sacked Gordon on Washington State's second play from scrimmage and never got to him the rest of the game. Most of the time, he sat back in the pocket unmolested for many seconds, spanning his options in the OSU secondary.
"We got a sack early; then they made a couple of adjustments," Smith said. "We created a couple of turnovers so we were sticking with staying in coverage."
It might have been different had Oregon State linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. — the nation's leader in tackles-for-loss and sacks — not been a member of the walking wounded. Rashed played with a soft cast on his left wrist, the result of an injury suffered in OSU's 35-34 win over Arizona State. Rashed played a significant number of snaps against the Cougars but made nary a tackle and never got close to Gordon.
"It wasn't quite the same," Smith said. "You could just see it. He got a couple of one-on-ones and wasn't able to make the play. He felt like he could go, but it did limit his pass rush."
Asked if Rashed had suffered a broken wrist, Smith answered, "Yeah, something with his wrist."
"If he were healthy, he'd have had a couple of sacks, for sure," said inebacker Avery Roberts, who led Oregon State with 10 tackles. "That's what he gives us every night. It hurt us a little bit not having him healthy."
Smith has forged a reputation as a gambler this season, and he kept his mode of operation intact Saturday against the Cougars. One of the gambles reaped big dividends. After Oregon State closed to within 42-39 with 7:32 remaining, the Beavers' Andre Bodden recovered an onside kick at the OSU 49. Three plays later, Luton connected on a fade route to Jefferson for 39 yards, a touchdown and a 46-42 lead.
Things didn't work out so well on fourth down. Oregon State went for it four times and made first down once, on a Luton sneak on fourth-and-1 from the WSU 31 early in the fourth quarter. That was a no-brainer.
The Beavers failed on fourth-and-7 from the WSU 38 in the first quarter; on fourth-and-6 from the WSU 42 in the third quarter and, of course, on fourth-and-4 from the WSU 43 late in the game. After gaining possession, the Cougars used the short field to score touchdowns all three times.
Going for it the last time was most puzzling. The Cougars were out of timeouts and would have had just over a minute to work with. Punter Daniel Rodriguez would have had a great shot at pinning them inside the 10. The Cougars' offense is potent, but they'd have had to go the length of the field and score a touchdown to win.
Asked if he had regrets on the fourth down misses, Smith said, "Not totally."
Taking gambles, he said, "has been our style. We knew the thing was going to be high-scoring and wanted to take our chances with it. Often times when you're going for it on fourth down, you just crossed the 50 and you look at the yardage to gain ... and we're confident in our offense."
Luton looks at it that way, too, regretting he was unable to connect with Quitoriano for a late first down.
"The pass was going to (Isaiah Hodgins) initially," he said. "They put two guys on him, I went back to the read, went to Teagan, who had a chance to make a really tough catch ... and we couldn't get it done."
Now it's on to Eugene, where the Beavers will be heavy underdogs in their bid to upset Oregon and claim bowl eligibility in their final regular-season game.
"This was a tough game to lose," Smith said. "It was a fabulous game, back and forth. Credit to Washington State for continuing to answer. We got down 11 and responded with a couple of quick scores.
"The guys played their hearts out. We had opportunities to seal the game and didn't do it, but I'm proud of the effort."
NOTES — Oregon State scored 24 points off Washington State turnovers, and got another seven after WSU's Blake Mazza missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt. It was the first miss of the season for Mazza, who was 18 for 18 on 3-point attempts. ... The Beavers had a great chance at another interception on WSU's third series, when safety Shawn Wilson read a pass play perfectly but couldn't hang onto the ball inside the 5. The Cougars went on to score a touchdown.
... OSU had a number of explosive plays, including runs of 54 yards by Jefferson and 33 yards by Artavis Pierce, Jefferson's 39-yard TD catch, a 46-yard TD reception by Champ Flemings and a 28-yard scoring grab by Quitoriano. ... Luton completed passes to eight receivers, including tight end Noah Togiai (five for 67 yards and a TD), Hodgins (five for 65) and Flemings (four for 110 yards and a TD). 'Hodge' is pretty good," Leach said. "Everybody talks about him, but they have a whole fleet of guys out there who are pretty good at the receiver position."
OSU safety Jalen Moore wasn't much impressed with Gordon, pointing to his three interceptions. "Anyone can do what he did when you have that much time to throw," Moore said. ... Smith was more complimentary. "That's a good offense over there," the OSU coach said. "It's tough to defend. You pick your poison, whether you blitz and the ball comes out quick, or you go with coverage and give up a bunch of plays. Either way, they're going to chip away." ... It was Hayes' first field goal of the season. "It was great to see that for him, and for our team," Smith said. "Everybody was real excited about it. And that wasn't a chip shot." ... Pierce gained 58 yards to get to 2,103 for his career, moving into 10th place on the OSU list. Jefferson, now at 1,984, ranks 12th. ... Jefferson had his 10th 100-yard-plus rushing game. ... Luton moved into third place for single-season touchdown passes with 28 and is fifth for career touchdown passes at 43. ... Hodgins is now seventh on the career receptions list with 168. He has 78 this season.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Oregon State 7 17 0 29 — 53
Washington State 7 14 14 19 — 54
OSU — Jermar Jefferson 54 run (Everett Hayes kick) 9:16
WSU — Dezmon Patmon 12 pass from Anthony Gordon (Blake Mazza kick) 2:17
OSU — Champ Flemings 46 pass from Luton (Hayes kick) 12:38
WSU — Eason Winston 10 pass from Gordon (Mazza kick) 9:24
WSU — Deon McIntosh 33 pass from Gordon (Mazza kick) 4:51
OSU — Noah Togiai 18 pass from Luton (Hayes kick) 2:20
OSU — Everett Hayes 47 FG :26.
WSU — Calvin Jackson 36 pass from Gordon (Mazza kick) 8:06
WSU — Renard Bell 10 pass from Gordon (Mazza kick) 1:44
OSU — Teagan Quitoriano 28 pass from Luton (Artavis Pierce run) 13:42
WSU — Max Borghi 1 run (Mazza kick) 9:52
OSU — Jefferson 5 run (Hayes kick) 7:32
OSU — Jefferson 39 pass from Luton (Hayes kick) 6:45
OSU — Jefferson 2 run (Hayes kick) 4:17
WSU — Dezmon Palmon 14 pass from Gordon (pass failed) 2:10
WSU — Max Borghi 2 run (run failed) :02
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