Oregon State won a November game to remember Saturday night. Also one that mattered to all concerned. That hasn’t happened in almost exactly 5 years, coming 1 night after the freezer bowl win over the same Arizona State team that left Reser Stadium after a series of unexpected game events then as well.
When Jake Luton knelled down to end the game, the Beavers led the Darkness Devils 35-34. Shortly thereafter, an assortment of students and family members spilled onto the field, and the band played on.
It came after over 3 hours of offensive fireworks and fizzles, both of which have been repeated story lines for both Oregon State and Arizona State all season. It came after some brilliant defense by both teams, but also numerous breakdowns. Also a recurring theme in both Corvallis and Tempe. It came after some questionable officiating. A standard across the conference for years.
It also came after some bold and aggressive decisions by both head coaches late in the game, one of which worked, albeit aided by both a defensive mistake and the last of a long line of officiating surprises. It was another success story by a second year coach who has been right more often than not when rolling the dice.
And one which didn’t work, something of a surprise from an experienced coach who has had a considerable amount of success late in games in his current 2 year stint by making good calls, not one that was highly likely to lead to losing, when an alternative that likely would have led to overtime, and more, maybe much more, 50-50 football, was available.
“But its football.”
So said senior Oregon State safety Jalen Moore in analysis of both Arizona State Coach Herm Edwards’ decision to go for 2 points, and the lead, after the Devils had pulled within 1 point on Brandon Aiyuk’s 2nd touchdown catch of the game with 1:40 to go, and Oregon State Coach Jonathan Smith’s decision to pull punter Daniel Rodriguez off the field, and have Luton try to pick up a win sealing first down with a 4th down pass.
The conversion attempt didn’t work when the Beaver defense was able to keep Eno Benjamin from getting to the corner, forcing a last ditch, nothing to lose hail-mary pass, which was intercepted by Nashon Wright, and wouldn’t have counted anyway, with flags on the field against the Devils.
The pass for the first down didn’t either, but there were flags on the field again, this time on ASU cornerback Jack Jones for pass interference. Pass interference calls with the game on the line are anything but predictable, but this one effectively ended the game in OSU’s favor, as it allowed the Beavers to run out the clock.
In other works, it was a November game to remember, between 2 teams battling to become bowl eligible.
An scene common Corvallis for over a decade for a while, but a completely foreign experience the current crop of Beavers, even seniors like Luton, left guard Blake Brandel, who has started every game of his career on the end of the line, mountain of a man defensive lineman Elu Aydon, guard Gus Lavaka, 5th year tight end Noah Togiaia, who had the game of his career in his final game at Reser, and Moore, among others, who turned the post-game celebration into an on-field party.
“These guys have stuck with it, and overcome adversity,” Coach Smith said. “I feel real happy for them. They have earned this.”
Oregon State never trailed, but the game was still a back and forth affair, with Arizona State answering each time the Beavers gained the upper hand in the first half, as the game was tied at 0, 7, 14, and 21.
Even a 2 touchdown lead late in the 3rd quarter, after Luton’s 4th scoring toss of the night to Togiai, above, almost entirely evaporated, as the Devils’ freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels completed his 2nd and 3rd td tosses of the game to set up the wild finish.
Luton was brilliant early, completing 15 of 18 first half passes, for 196 yards, and touchdowns to Jesiah Irish (who subsequently left the game, returning on crutches with his foot in a boot), above, Trevon Bradford, and Isaiah Hodgins, and orchestrating an 8 play 72 yard drive that ended with Jemar Jefferson’s 4 yard touchdown run 33 seconds before halftime, below.
The Oregon State offense was so efficient in the first half, scoring on 4 of 5 possessions, it created such a large time of possession advantage that Arizona State never overcame that the Beavers for the game had a 9 1/2 minutes edge in ball control.
But the Beaver offense struggled comparatively in the second half, with back to back 3 and punts before the drive that ended with what would ultimately be the winning touchdown toss to Togiai, and 6 total plays on the next 2 Oregon State drives after that.
Luton, above, finished with 26 completions on 35 throws, for 288 rushing yards.
The Arizona State defense did bottle up the Oregon State running game though, as Artavis Pierce, above, and Jefferson combined for only 95 net yards on 30 carries.
And the season long streak of no fumbles ended late in the 3rd quarter when the ball was knocked out of Pierce’s grasp.
Fortunately for Oregon State, the Beaver defense also forced 3 fumbles, recovering 2 of them, one by Moore in the Beavers’ own endzone in the 4th quarter, in addition to the pass breakup on the 2 point conversion attempt.
And the Beaver defense sacked Daniels 4 times, 1 more than the Devils were able to deck Luton, including 2 by Hamilcar Rashed Jr., who had 4 total tackles for a loss, to remain the only one in the conference with a tackle for a loss in every game this season. . Rashed also just happens to lead the country in both sacks and tackles for a loss.
Overall, Oregon State gave up 408 yards, despite bottling up Benjamin to just 70 yards rushing, and just 1 2 yard touchdown run for Arizona State’s first score, below, down considerably from the 324 he rolled up on the Beaver defense in last year’s 52-24 blowout win in Tempe. Daniels completed 24 of 36 passes, for 334 yards.
And the OSU special teams also struggled, giving up a 63 yard punt return for a touchdown to Aiyuk in the 2nd quarter.
Aiyuk was the player of the game, with a game high 10 catches, for a game high 173 yards for Arizona State.
Togiai had 8 catches for 76 yards, and the Beavers’ last touchdown, while Hodgins had 6 catches for a team high 93 yards for Oregon State.
Oregon State improved to 5-5, and 4-3 in the Pac-12, in second place in the North, a full game ahead of Washington. It’s the first time since 2014 the Beavers have won 4 games in a season against FBS opponents, or 5 games total, and the first time since 2013 that Oregon State has won 4 conference games.
The Beavers still need 1 win to become bowl eligible, the same situation Washington State (5-5,2-5) is in after the Cougs clobbered Stanford 49-22. WSU hosts OSU next Saturday night, with bowl eligibility on the line before both teams head into their state rivalry games as underdogs.
But at least the Beavers will again be playing a game that matters to all involved in November. It should be an interesting trip to the Palouse, where Luton will look to erase memories of his literally back-breaking experience the last time Oregon State ventured into Martin Stadium.
Cue the fight song one more time!
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)