CORVALLIS — A subdued excitement came from the Oregon State football team Saturday night.
The Beavers put together their most complete game of the season, and it was against a quality team in Pacific-12 Conference rival Washington.
A running game was found, the offensive line blocked consistently and freshman quarterback Sean Mannion played his best game.
The defense stopped the run, pressured the passer and forced turnovers.
All the demons that haunted the Beavers all season were conquered in one night. However, it was a case of being late to the party.
The Beavers defeated the bowl-bound Huskies 38-21 before a crowd of 42,766 in Reser Stadium, and they looked like what coach Mike Riley envisioned for his team.
OSU (3-8, 3-5) is still headed for a second straight losing season with the season-ending Civil War next.
The sting of the overall season still looms.
“What makes me feel best is the game emphasized the point, or proved, that this team never quit,” Riley said. “They just kept working, It hasn’t always looked very good, but that work is paying dividends. We are fighting to make plays, and guys are getting better.”
The offense gained 484 yards, 145 of that on the ground. It wasn’t a dominating performance, but just enough between the tackles to make the offense go.
Starting running back Terron Ward rushed for 43 yards and Jovan Stevenson came off the bench to add 41 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
That sparked the outside running by the receivers. Markus Wheaton ran for 66 yards.
“We just came in and it was all clicking,” Wheaton said. “Our run game looked pretty good. I think that was it.”
Mannion showed poise and growth with 339 yards and two TDs. What helped him was the offensive line did not allow a sack.
He threw out of his own end zone twice with confidence in the fourth quarter. He hit Wheaton on his second try on a 52-yard completion.
Red zone issues went away with points on six of seven chances. The 38 points scored topped the 27 points OSU scored in the last three games against Utah, Stanford and California combined.
“We just executed really well,” Mannion said. “We made some big plays, but across the board we did a good job chipping away. It feels good to play such a good, well-played game.”
Washington leaned on standout running back Chris Polk, and he dominated early in the game. The defense had been battered the last three games, and it appeared to be more of the same.
Players decided to dig down and make a stand. Safety Anthony Watkins said there were no changes from the last three weeks, the defense just made needed plays.
“The past couple weeks teams have been running the ball on us and we had no answer to it, so we focused on it this week,” Watkins said. “Everyone did their job and played within their scheme, and did not try to do too much.”
Polk was held to 109 yards, quarterback Nick Montana was sacked four times and two passes were picked off and a fumble was forced.
While their overall numbers looked good, it was plays at crunch time that showed how far the Beavers have come.
They nearly handed Washington an easy score when Brandin Cooks fumbled a kickoff return in the fourth quarter. Last week it would have been a touchdown.
Instead, safety Ryan Murphy intercepted a pass on the goal line to save the game.
The Beavers learned how to close out a game instead of letting it slip away. They played a tight contest for a half and finished strong.
“I think there was a lot of stuff like that I was proud of,” Riley said. “There were times after the fumble late everybody could have lost their poise and got nervous. Then we come up with two of the biggest plays of the game with Murphy’s interception and Mannion to Wheaton.”
When you look at the win over the Huskies, it’s a glimpse into the future. The Beavers showed potential playing that well.
It just took 11 games into season to see it.
“I always knew the kind of talent we had,” safety Lance Mitchell said. “It’s a testament to what we’ve been through. No matter if we are winning or losing we are working hard.”
Cliff Kirkpatrick covers the OSU football for the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald.