SAN DIEGO — Oregon State had just scored to cut San Diego State’s lead to 30-28 with just under three minutes to play Saturday night.
Coach Mike Riley considered attempting an onside kick, then decided against it and had Trevor Romaine go deep.
“The best way is what we did for us,” Riley said. “I thought we had a pretty good handle on them in the second half defensively. We got into a bluff onside alignment so they couldn’t set up a return. We got that. We probably could have taken the opportunity to just pooch the ball into a hole and run down there, but it was just safe to do what we did. They were not going to get a return on us because they thought we were onside kicking and then we had three timeouts.”
The move paid off in a big way.
Two plays later, Steven Nelson returned an interception 16 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and the Beavers earned a stunning 34-30 victory in Qualcomm Stadium.
Receiver Brandin Cooks had another solid day catching the ball. Cooks finished with 14 catches — tying a school record — for 141 yards.
Cooks also moved into seventh place on the school’s all-time receiving yards list with 2,181. He now has 141 career receptions, good for ninth all time at OSU, and has eight career 100-yard receiving games. He has 43 catches this season through four games.
Despite his numbers, Cooks was frustrated by, among other things, his fumble in the fourth quarter that allowed the Aztecs to take a 30-21 lead.
“I’m happy we got the win,” he said. “I’m really happy. It may not look like it but I’m excited we got that W. I’ve got some personal things to fix. The mistakes I made, I take that upon myself.”
Riley said he expects Cooks to bounce back next week against Colorado.
“Not everybody plays their best all the time,” he said. “My guess about him is he’ll have a great week of practice and he’ll be great again. Even at not his best tonight he made a lot of good plays.”
Oregon State had 13 penalties for 99 yards, including 11 for 79 yards in the first half, several of which were false starts on the offensive line.
“I take a lot of the responsibility for that,” quarterback Sean Mannion said. “We were trying to go a no-silent count and as it turned out we needed it. I’ve got to get everyone on the same page and I have to drive the bus on that. A sloppy game, it’s one I’m sure when we look tomorrow we’re not going to be too proud of but we won.”
Offensive line shuffle
Starting center Josh Mitchell left the game with an ankle injury. He was hurt in the first half and returned before finally needing to sit out.
Isaac Seumalo, who was the starting center all of last year but had moved to right tackle, moved back to center with Mitchell out. That meant freshman Sean Harlow saw his first action and won’t redshirt.
Harlow is the third true freshman to play for the Beavers this season, joining Victor Bolden and Darrell Songy.
Fullback Tyler Anderson missed the game with a nagging hamstring injury. He gave it a go in pregame warmups but sat out.
San Diego State took the opening kickoff and marched 65 yards in six plays to score a touchdown for the early 7-0 lead. It was the first time the Aztecs scored on their opening possession since Oct. 13, 2012 against Colorado State.
Odds and ends
The Beavers were 4 for 4 in the red zone on Saturday and are now 22 for 22 on the season. ... Tight end Kellen Clute’s first-quarter touchdown was his second career TD and his second career catch. He added two more catches in the game. ... Tyrequek Zimmerman had a career-high 13 tackles