Oregon State spent a lot of time answering tough questions Saturday in Berkeley, and the Beavers had enough good answers to pull out a 21-17 win against California.
The first question was whether the Beavers would bounce back after last week’s 52-7 blowout loss to Utah. Jumping out to a 14-0 first half lead against Cal, and another of the best defenses in the country, never mind the conference, was a definite yes.
Jake Luton capped a 12 play, 4 1/2 minute drive 35 seconds before the end of the first quarter with a 7 yard touchdown toss to Artavis Pierce, above, and a 78 yard march that took over 5 minutes in the middle of the 2nd quarter with a 4 yard dart of a pass to Isaiah Hodgins.
Some more tough questions came the Beavers way after the Bears scored 17 straight points to go ahead shortly before the end of the third period.
Cal made some solid halftime adjustments, and thoroughly out-played Oregon State in the third quarter. Most notable were back to back big completions by Bear quarterback Devon Modster that produced the go-ahead touchdown, first a 16 yarder Nikko Remigioto, and on the next play, a 33 yard scoring strike to Jordan Duncan, below, both of which looked disturbingly similar to so many defensive breakdowns Beaver fans have witnessed in recent seasons.
Could Oregon State answer or stop a comeback in a close contest? Something they couldn’t do in 3 point losses earlier in the season at Hawaii and against Stanford.
Especially playing without key players, like guard Gus Lavaka, who was shelved after warmups, or linebacker Shemar Smith, who was hauled out on a cart in the second quarter, after suffering an apparently significant right ankle injury.
Turned out, the answers were again yes on all accounts.
Luton engineered a 12 play, 80 yard touchdown drive that BJ Baylor capped with a 13 yard run and roll, where Baylor appeared to be down short of the goal line, but he actually rolled over a Bear to reach the ball in for the score.
It was a nearly 5 minute march, highlighted by a 20 yard run by Pierce, above, on 3rd and 10, and it produced the winning points with 4:41 left in the game.
The defense had answers as well, making stops on the Bears’ final 2 drives of the day.
Modster, himself the Cal backup quarterback, who started for Chase Garbers, who is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, gave way for those last 2 series to Spencer Brasch, for unclear reasons, possibly a concussion. Brasch had his first drive end in a deflected pass that was intercepted by Jaydon Grant.
It was redemption for Grant, who gave up one of the completions that produced Cal’s go-ahead score.
Oregon State’s offense couldn’t completely close out the win, despite a 2 yard run by Luton that converted a 4th and 1, but the Beavers did manage to burn 2 of the Bear’s timeouts.
Daniel Rodriguez and the Beaver special teams did their part though, pinning Cal on their own 8 yard line, with only 57 seconds left to try to go 92 yards.
Hamilcar Rashed Jr. had the last 2 of his 3 sacks on the day to quell the last effort by the Bears, including one for 10 yards to end the game, and touch off a celebration that brought the clearly emotional players over to the corner of Memorial Stadium where the Beaver Believers on hand greeted them, and the OSU Marching Band played them the fight song one more time.
The game was as close as the stats suggest, and as rugged, as Oregon State overall mounted the best defensive effort of the Jonathan Smith era and beyond.
Both the Beavers and Bears managed 282 yards. Cal out-passed Oregon State by 1 yard, 175 to 174, while the Beavers out-rushed the Bears 108 yards to 107.
Luton, above, completed just 18 of 34 passes, though that included a number of throw-aways, where it was apparent that with a lot of game still o be played, Luton was consciously looking to not risk throwing the game away by forcing a ball into tight coverage.
Luton was also sacked 5 times by the relentless Cal rush.
But the Beavers posted 9 sacks of their own, 7 on Modster, who connected on only 12 of 27 throws, and the 2 on Brasch, who was 2 of 6, on the game’s last possession.
Cal’s all-everything linebacker Evan Weaver had a game high 21 tackles, 11 of them solo, and 2 sacks, and the Bears recorded 7 tackles for a loss.
But the Beavers got 13 tackles from Avery Roberts, 8 solo, and Rashed Jr., sacking Modster above, had 4 tackles for a loss. Redshirt freshman Riley Sharp gave Oregon State a boost in Smith’s absence, with 3 sacks. The Beavers recorded 14 total tackles for a loss, their most since 2001.
Pierce was held to 80 yards rushing, but that was a game high, as Modster led Cal, with 76 yards rushing, 37 on one scramble on the Bears’ first touchdown drive, which almost ended with that run, as Modster fumbled at the end. But though the Beavers’ David Morris got the first hand on it, the Bears’ Gavin Reinwald ultimately came up with it.
It was far from a clean game, and officiating became a point of controversy on multiple occasions. But while it will always be something to work towards, a clean game will never be something that’s going to happen.
The important takeaway for the Beavers, besides their 2nd road win of the season for the first time in 5 years, and 2nd road conference win for the first time in 6 seasons, was that they not only got material contributions from all 3 phases of the game, they got them with the game on the line, after a credible opponent had challenged them.
“We’ll take it any way we can get it,” was Coach Smith’s summarization.
Cal dropped to 4-3, but just 1-3 in the Pac-12, after losing their 3rd game in a row.
Oregon State improved to 3-4 on the season, and 2-2 in conference, and get a week off to enjoy and build on it, before heading to Tucson in 2 weeks to start the November run of 5 games.
Cue the Fight Song!
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)