As Jalen Moore put it, “if you want to win the fight you have to throw the biggest punch and that is something we did.”
The punch Oregon State’s senior safety was talking about came on a fourth-and-2 play with 42 seconds left and the Beavers clinging to a 35-34 lead over Arizona State.
At first coach Jonathan Smith sent the punt team on the field. Then he called his last timeout, changed his mind and opted to try to win the game on the next play.
While Jake Luton’s pass was incomplete, Arizona State’s Jack Jones was called for pass interference and the Luton took a knee one time to end the game.
It set off a wild celebration on the field with the Beavers players and their fans.
The 35-34 win gives the Beavers their first Pac-12 home victory since the 2016 Civil War. More importantly, Oregon State (5-5, 4-3) is one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since the 2013 season.
“These kids deserve it,” Smith said. “They have been working so hard. Shoot, the locker room celebration was just as fun when it was just us.”
Smith, who has shown a propensity for being aggressive on fourth downs in his first two seasons, felt confident the offense would deliver.
“Again, we try to go win the game and fourth-and-2, we get two yards and we win,” Smith said. “I’ll take our chances with it.”
Luton also wanted the game in his hand.
“I wanted to go for it,” he said. “I think we all wanted to go for it. I think we all felt like we could go out and make a play happen and go win the game. It wasn’t pretty but we did it. It wasn’t completed but we did what we had to do and we got the first down and I think props to coach Smith for having confidence in us to go out and win the game.”
While Smith’s decision turned out to work, that wasn’t the case for Arizona State coach Herm Edwards, who opted to go for a two-point conversion and the lead after the Sun Devils scored a touchdown with 1:40 to play.
The Sun Devils (5-5, 2-5) gave the ball to Eno Benjamin, who started to go left but was bottled up. With nowhere to run, Benjamin heaved the ball across the field and Oregon State’s Nahshon Wright intercepted the pass.
“We’re playing to win,” said Edwards, who is famously known for his response to a similar question when he was the head coach of the New York Jets and said “you play to win the game.”
Said Smith of Edwards' decision to go for two: “It didn’t shock me. I didn’t know what he was going to do. But you’re on the road and the way the game was going they had the opportunity to take the lead right there. I can see it.”
Luton had a strong performance in his final appearance at Reser, completing 26 of 35 attempts for 288 yards and four touchdowns.
Isaiah Hodgins had six catches for 93 yards and a score and senior tight end Noah Togiai added eight receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Artavis Pierce had 16 carries for 63 yards and Jermar Jefferson added 32 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts.
ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels finished 24 of 36 for 334 yards and three scores and teamed up with Brandon Aiyuk 10 times for 173 yards and a touchdown.
Benjamin was held to 70 yards on 15 carries.
“I thought we played really well on defense,” Smith said. “Got some huge stops and turnovers, really sealed the game in a lot of ways for us. Guys were flying around and getting to the quarterback because that’s a good offense. They’ve got some weapons.”
Neither offense was able to get going early in the third until the Beavers took over at the ASU 28 after Simon Sandberg forced a fumble and Riley Sharp recovered it.
OSU picked up a fourth-and-2 with an 8-yard pass to Togiai, then Togiai hurdled a defender near the 5 and went in for a 12-yard touchdown that put the Beavers up 35-21 with 4:14 left in the period.
“I just went out and played the same as I always play but I just got a little more opportunities to make plays and Jake was getting me the ball and I did what I had to do,” Togiai said.
After gaining just 10 yards on its first three possessions of the period, the Sun Devils used a 56-yard pass to set up an 8-yard pass from Daniels to Kyle Williams to make it 35-28 with 2:19 left.
After Pierce fumbled to give the Sun Devils possession at the 41, the Beavers’ defense rose to the occasion and forced a fourth-and-28 to get the ball back with the lead intact.
The Sun Devils had another great scoring opportunity come up short as David Morris stripped the ball from Benjamin at the 1 and Moore recovered for a touchback with just over 10 minutes left.
“That was a huge play because we keep coaching them that you keep fighting until they’re in and that was a huge stop,” Smith said. “David is a guy who has overcome a ton so I was pleased for him making that play.”
The Beavers moved the ball to midfield but had to punt, giving the Sun Devils one last opportunity.
A big third-down pass play kept the drive alive and they pulled within 35-34 on a 12-yard pass from Daniels to Aiyuk on fourth down.
The Beavers took the opening kickoff and methodically worked the ball into the red zone before Jesiah Irish made a sensational catch in the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead 3:20 into the game.
The Sun Devils tied it on their second possession as Benjamin capped off an eight-play, 54-yard drive with a 2-yard run with 5:35 left in the quarter.
A 40-yard strike from Luton to Hodgins set up 5-yard TD catch by Trevon Bradford that made it 14-7 with two minutes left in the opening quarter.
Arizona State used a big kickoff return to set up another scoring drive. Frank Darby out-dueled Wright for a 24-yard touchdown catch to make it 14-all with 20 seconds left.
Oregon State took a 21-14 lead early in the second quarter as Luton connected with Hodgins for a 5-yard score with 9:58 to play. That capped a 10-play, 74-yard drive that chewed up 5:15 off the clock.
The Sun Devils once again tied the game, this time on a 64-yard punt return by Aiyuk with 4:01 left in the half.
The Beavers countered and went 72 yards in eight plays with Jefferson capping the drive with a 4-yard run to make it 28-21 with 33 seconds to play in the half.