On the first play of Oregon State’s season, the snap from center Josh Mitchell sailed over quarterback Sean Mannion’s head, sending him scrambling to cover it for a big loss.
It was going to be a long day.
The Beavers bumbled their way through a flag-filled first half and overcame several early-season struggles for a 29-14 nonconference football win over Portland State before 40,309 fans on Saturday afternoon.
“A pretty good indicator of what it was going to be like was the first play,” coach Mike Riley said. “I haven’t seen one of those all camp, so it really came out of the blue.”
In the end, it was defense that came up big for the Beavers.
After correcting a few first-half issues, the Beavers (1-0) shut down the Vikings the rest of the way. OSU allowed 215 total yards — 40 in the second half — and came up with five turnovers.
The Beavers held PSU to four first downs in the second half after giving up 11 in the first.
That was crucial for the Beavers, who struggled in the red zone and wound up with a school-record for field goal attempts for kicker Garrett Owens, who tried seven and made five.
The Beavers also were flagged 13 times for 119 yards.
“They’re a great defense,” Mannion said of the Beavers’ defense. “We’ve seen them every day for almost 30 days now and we know they’re good and they came out and played well today. You look at their ability to force turnovers and give us a short field, they played outstanding and I think we need to kind of pick up the slack and when they do give us a short field, we’ve got to pride ourselves on getting six.”
The Beavers got on the board first with a 25-yard field goal by Owens. The Beavers went 52 yards on seven plays, sparked by a 37-yard catch and run by tight end Connor Hamlett, who nearly scored but couldn’t quite keep himself in bounds.
Owens hit another 25-yarder to make it 6-0. Storm Woods had a 50-yard run on a draw play on third and long but the drive eventually bogged down and a false start penalty on a fourth-and-inches at the PSU 3 forced the Beavers to go with the field goal.
Woods rushed for 126 yards on 16 carries.
Backup quarterback Paris Penn started the second quarter by slipping by the Beavers up front and then racing 58 yards for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 7-6 lead.
The Beavers came right back with an 82-yard drive in 10 plays. Mannion hit Victor Bolden for 29 yards to get it going, then went to Richard Mullaney for 13 yards, Connor Hamlett for 14 and Caleb Smith for 18 and then Mannion took it in from the 6 for a 13-7 lead.
Penalties hurt the Beavers throughout the first half. They finished with 10, including a few false starts, hands to the face, roughing the passer and consecutive personal fouls on the defense to allow the Vikings to move into scoring position trailing 13-7. A defensive holding call gave PSU the ball at the OSU 11. Penn then broke tackles and scored from there for a 14-13 lead.
Penn finished the first half with 102 yards and two touchdowns on five carries. He ended the game with 112 yards, but OSU defensive end Dylan Wynn was not pleased with the Beavers’ contain defense and particularly the 5.5 yards per carry by the Vikings.
“That’s a huge part and in our league, every quarterback’s a running back and we understand that and we went into this game knowing that the quarterback was going to run and still we have holes in our defense because of that,” Wynn said. “It’s something that we’re working on and it’s something that we’ve been harping on and we’ve seen how when the bullets fly we are out of position in certain situations, but it’s something we’re going to get fixed really quick.”
Mannion said the Beavers were not concerned about the situation when they talked in the locker room at the half.
“I think when we looked around the locker room we really felt we could move the ball on these guys,” Mannion said. “We just had to clean up the penalties and I thought we did a lot better in the second half with that and then when we got down into the red zone we had to really get seven every time.”
Tyrequek Zimmerman started off the second half with a pick and the Beavers wound up with another field goal and a 16-14 lead.
It looked as if the Beavers were set up for another quick score when they forced the Vikings to punt from their end zone and took over from the PSU 35, but could not convert when the offensive line had a couple breakdowns.
The Beavers got it right back at the PSU 23 on a fumble recovery by Michael Doctor and Mannion found Woods open for a dumpoff and Woods raced 23 for a touchdown and a 23-14 lead.
Zimmerman came up with his second interception, which led to Owens hitting his fourth field goal of the game. Owens finished the scoring with a 23-yarder in the fourth.
“We just played sounder football,” Riley said. “In the first half we got out of our lanes and not balanced. In the second half we figured out what was hurting us and took it away.
“When you take their best stuff away and don’t give them the big pass, it’s just a nice job. Our guys executed, that’s a good sign. I think Tyrequek had his best game as a Beaver.”