The final 21 minutes Saturday night had to bring back some memories of Oregon State’s improbable come-from-way-behind Pac-12 football win at Colorado last season.
The Beavers trailed 31-3 early in the third quarter of that game only to flip the script and pull out a thrilling 41-34 win over the Buffaloes.
The deficit wasn’t nearly as large this time, but unfortunately for Oregon State, neither was the outcome.
Down 21-0, the Beavers managed to tie their conference opener with Stanford at 28-all with just under 2 minutes to play.
But a long kickoff return allowed the Cardinal to get into position to kick a game-winning 39-yard field and Jet Toner was perfect as Stanford sent the Beavers to a 31-28 loss before a Reser Stadium crowd of 32,326.
“It’s real tough man,” said junior receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who had 10 catches for 162 yards and the first of the Beavers’ four touchdowns. “It’s different. I feel like it’s part of us growing as a team and learning how to win those close games and it’s going to involve some growing pains like this.
“But I feel like it will pay off in the end. We just have to keep fighting, stay together as a team and put together a full game to win it.”
When Stanford (2-3, 1-2) backup quarterback Davis Mills, who got the start for the injured K.J. Costello, connected with Brycen Tremayne from 3 yards out for a 21-0 lead with 6:14 left in the third, it felt like the game was out of reach for the Beavers (1-3, 0-1).
But that’s when thoughts of the Colorado comeback began to pop up.
“It was just keep fighting,” said senior running back Artavis Pierce, who was the workhorse with 16 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns. “We did it before in Colorado and our coaches just said keep fighting and believe and once we got in the end zone once, everybody started feeling good and more confident and I just feel like we started executing.”
The comeback began on the ensuing drive as Jake Luton’s 11-yard pass to Hodgins, who reached behind himself and snared it with his right hand before pulling it into his body for the score with 1:21 left in the third, capped an 11-play 75-yard drive.
The Beavers got a three-and-out but a 68-yard punt rolled dead at the 5. That didn’t matter as Oregon State went 95 yards in just eight plays with Pierce going over the left side and bursting 43 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-14 with 12:23 left.
Oregon State appeared to hold the Cardinal to a field goal on the next drive, but a leverage penalty gave Stanford a first down on the next drive.
After a roughing the passer penalty, the Cardinal pulled out a trick play as tight end Colby Parkinson took a reverse then threw to Mills for a touchdown and a 28-14 lead with 9:31 left.
Oregon State stormed back and B.J. Baylor capped a six-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard run to trim the deficit back to seven at 28-21 with 7:05 left.
On the ensuing kickoff, Baylor came out of the tackle with the ball for an apparent fumble recovery. But the runner was ruled down. After a lengthy review the call on the field stood.
“I didn’t see a whole lot,” coach Jonathan Smith said. “I was watching the review and it just didn’t look like we got a great angle on it. And that’s why they had the call stand.”
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The Beavers defense forced another three-and-out and they took over at their own 22 with 4:29 left.
Oregon State stormed down the field, overcoming a holding penalty along the way, with Pierce’s second-effort getting the ball in from the 1 after his 36-yard run the previous play.
During the review of the touchdown, Smith admitted he thought about going for two and the lead with just under 2 minutes left.
“But we had the crowd in it and I thought we were playing pretty well defensively,” he said.
A 43-yard kickoff return by Conner Wedington, however, gave the Cardinal the ball at midfield and they were able to get in position to win it with Toner’s kick.
“Special teams doesn’t always go your way but we’re the defense we’ve got to be the ones to stop them, we have to be the one to be the force on the field,” said Hamilcar Rashed Jr., who had five solo tackles with two sacks. “It hurts no matter what. A loss is going to hurt no matter what. We were there, we just have to be better. The little details, flags and stuff like that, we can’t have them.”
The Beavers had 501 total yards to 353 for the Cardinal and held Stanford to 100 yards rushing.
Mills finished 18 for 25 for 245 yards and three touchdowns and Cameron Scarlett had 92 rushing yards on 24 carries.
For OSU, Luton completed 27 of 29 passes for 337 yards and the one touchdown to Hodgins.
A lightning strike in the area delayed the start of the game 15 minutes and the teams both missed long field goals on their first drives.
Mills hit Michael Wilson on a short pass play and he took it 26 yards for a touchdown that put the Cardinal up 7-0 with 1:37 left in the first quarter.
The defense came up with a big stop as Rashed picked up his second sack of the game on third down and forced the Cardinal to punt after starting at the OSU 39.
The Beavers took over at their own 3 and three straight passes to Hodgins moved the ball to the Stanford 37.
On third-and-8 at the 20, Luton scrambled away from pressure and just missed Kolby Taylor in the end zone. Jordan Choukair’s 38-yard field goal attempt, though, was blocked with 6:30 left in the half.
The Cardinal had two third-and-long (11 and 12 yards) conversions to keep the next drive alive. Then on third-and goal from the 3, Mills hit Parkinson for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 1:24 left in the half.
The Beavers appeared headed to at least a field goal attempt to close out the half but back-to-back sacks by the Cardinal blew up that possibly quickly and the clock ran out.
This loss may stick for a while but the Beavers need to regroup quickly as they head to UCLA this coming Saturday.
“It’s frustrating but no matter what we’re still going to come tomorrow and we’ve got to practice and we’re still going to go at it and attack it,” Rashed said. “We’re going to let it soak in and let it marinate and keep working no matter what. It hurts. We are going to walk around angry next week and we going to see what’s up next week.”