I quickly dubbed it Black Saturday as I went for a late-night walk to burn off some of the frustrations from Oregon State’s agonizing loss at Washington State on Saturday night.
In the span of a few hours, Oregon’s hopes of a spot in the college football playoffs went poof when the Ducks played flat all night (except for a stretch in the fourth quarter) in a loss at Arizona State and the Beavers missed their best chance for a bowl bid when Washington State came back from two scores down for a stunning win in Pullman.
What a disappointing night for football fans in Oregon — make that a disappointing day if you add in Linfield’s triple-overtime loss to Chapman in the opening round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
But, hey, this is Thanksgiving, so, eventually, this column will give reasons to be thankful.
First, though, it was easy to run through the scenarios from the two games most of the fans in the state were paying attention to.
I was a little concerned about Oregon after Arizona State’s quarterback torched Oregon State with several long passes last week, but not too worried. I expected the Ducks to cover the point spread, which had Oregon as a two-score favorite.
What I didn’t expect was for Oregon’s offense to go completely flat after an easy touchdown drive in the first quarter. The network covering the game threw a graphic on the screen that Arizona State hadn’t led a single second in any of the previous four games and I thought that trend would continue.
Then the long passes started hitting for the Sun Devils and nothing worked for the Ducks after they were stopped on fourth-and-one inside the 10 … until that fourth quarter rally.
I was carrying on a text conversation with my newsroom/dining/golfing partner Ron and mentioned that the fourth-quarter deficit was star quarterback Justin Herbert’s chance for a Heisman moment. Oops. All he did was throw two interceptions, plus another ball that should have been intercepted (he hit the defensive back on the numbers and the guy just dropped the ball).
Still, Oregon suddenly surged and had a chance to win the game until the Sun Devils hit one last home run pass. And when Arizona State had the ball in the final minute and needed a first down to put the game away, they did just that.
Attention switched from the desert to cold eastern Washington and the Beavers were in a wild game with the Cougars that included more than 1,200 yards of offense.
Oregon State went from ahead to down and in trouble early in the fourth quarter. Then, in a quick series of events, the Beavers took control.
Star receiver Isaiah Hodgins had an unbelievable catch on the sideline to set up a touchdown, the Beavers recovered an onside kick to set up another score. Oregon State’s defense came up with its third interception of the game to set up yet another TD and suddenly it looked like OSU’s game to lose.
Unfortunately, the Beavers did just that.
Oregon State couldn’t get any pressure on Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon, who moved the Cougars downfield, setting up a touchdown to trim the lead to five.
Oregon State recovered the onside kick and had the ball back in the final two minutes with the Cougars down to two timeouts. After Jermar Jefferson gained 5 yards on first down, things looked great for the Beavers. But Washington State stopped him on second and third down, setting up the fateful fourth-down play.
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Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith opted to go for it, knowing a first down would clinch the game, and Jake Luton’s pass to tight end Teagan Quitoriano was high and he couldn’t hold on.
Given new life and a relatively short field, the Cougars drove for the winning score in the final seconds.
My initial reaction was Oregon State should have punted the ball. In retrospect, as many people have pointed out during the week, Oregon State’s offense was playing better than its defense and Smith was right to leave the game in the hands of his better unit. Knowing that, my second thought was the Beavers should have passed on second or third down, when the Cougars might not have been expecting it. But I’m not qualified to criticize a coach who has made so many great decisions.
Two close losses. One agonizing evening.
But, hey, this is a thanksgiving column.
And fans of the Ducks and Beavers have a lot to be thankful for.
Oregon can still go to the Rose Bowl if the Ducks beat Utah or USC in the Pac-12 title game and coach Mario Cristobal is on pace for another phenomenal recruiting class. If whoever follows Herbert at quarterback is better than decent, Oregon could be better next year than this year.
And, realistically, just getting into the playoff discussion took good fortune. The Ducks probably should have lost to both the Huskies and Cougars and were terrible on offense in wins over California and Stanford. The only really good win was a blowout over USC, which imploded against the Ducks.
And Saturday’s loss ended the frustration many fans would have had if Oregon ended up being passed over for a playoff bid by Alabama, which has a weak resume but a great tradition.
How about the Beavers? Everybody picked them for last in the Pac-12 North in Smith’s second season at the helm. Instead, they will finish at worst tied for second.
If Oregon State loses Saturday, like most people expect, and misses a bowl game, the loss to the Cougars will stand out, as will the closes losses to Stanford on a last-second field goal and Hawaii when OSU did not score in the second half.
On the bright side, they are way ahead of where they were last year, when they were not competitive against most of the same teams.
And people with a good memory will remember that in Mike Riley’s second year as head coach the Beavers also came out of nowhere to win five games, just missing a bowl, after years and years of losing seasons.
That season’s losses included a game at Washington when OSU was being blown out and Riley put in a walk-on freshman quarterback who brought them back to the point that the game was decided when OSU misfired on a two-point conversion after a touchdown on the final play. The QB’s name? Jonathan Smith.
Just like the Ducks, Oregon State fans should be excited for the future.
And no matter the outcome in the Civil War on Saturday, fans of both schools have a lot to be thankful for this fall.