They were neatly laid out, some 6,000 orange cowboy hats on Reser Stadium’s benches, awaiting Oregon State students as they entered the seating area Saturday afternoon.
Students wore them, tossed them, stacked them high during the game.
By game’s end, though, they had a different function.
As Oregon State put the finishing touches on a 38-34 win over Oregon, those hats made their way to the field. Dozens of Beaver players wore them proudly on the sideline, as they danced and celebrated during the final seconds following a comeback that defies description.
Students are usually given a warning that they must wait a minute after the game before rushing the field. OSU didn’t even bother with an announcement. It was a full-on storming, one where no one will respond with an act-like-you’ve-been-here before.
Because they haven’t. Oregon State (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) dug into its records and found there’s never been a rally like Saturday in a game between the Ducks and Beavers.
A fan dressed in a Santa Claus suit walked away from Reser and said, “I promised everyone we were going to win.”
Santa always delivers, right?
Santa looked shaky for the bulk of the afternoon. Down 31-10 midway through the third quarter, the Beavers seemed dead. Rarely has a Jonathan Smith team melted down as the Beavers had, going from the doorstep of a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter to the verge of getting routed.
But to write off Oregon State’s chances meant forgetting this team’s resolve. A team that was probably the worst in FBS in 2018, to a team that learned how to win, grinded its way to a bowl season in 2021. Then in 2022, won games it had no business winning at Fresno State and Stanford.
Brandon Kipper explained the resolve as simply as this: get your teeth kicked in enough, you figure it out.
“That’s something this culture has really changed over the last year or two. There is a belief, that no matter what the score is, just keep executing, keep playing,” Kipper said. “It was complete and total faith.”
The situation was simple to Oregon State linebacker Jack Colletto.
“It’s the middle of the third quarter. The game wasn’t really over,” Colletto said. “It’s a four-quarter game. Things happen all the time.”
Boy, did things happen.
For a 10-minute stretch, nothing went right for the Beavers. From an inexplicable ball spot by officials that killed an OSU drive, to turnovers, to getting nothing done on offense, the Beavers were reeling. Oregon ran off 24 consecutive points and lead 31-10 with 20 minutes remaining, were beginning to make plane reservations for Las Vegas and next Friday’s Pac-12 championship game.
What flipped the momentum?
Belief aside, what triggered it was the first play from scrimmage following the kickoff, a 43-yard run by freshman Damien Martinez. It brought life to the Reser crowd, and seemed to energize OSU’s sidelines. Three plays later, Deshaun Fenwick was in the end zone and the Beavers were beginning to mount a comeback.
“He’s one of those type of players that can develop a spark in a game that we need,” senior receiver Tyjon Lindsey said of Martinez.
That gave Oregon State a little hope, but it wasn’t until the fourth quarter began that the floodgates opened.
A big kickoff return by Silas Bolden set up Oregon State’s next touchdown. Then another special teams play, where OSU recovered a muffed punt snap by Alex Bales at the Oregon 2 led to another touchdown, drawing the Beavers to within 34-31.
Oregon then added fuel to the comeback, when on fourth-and-1 at the Ducks 29, coach Dan Lanning rolled the dice and kept the offense on the field.
Jaydon Grant knew that was a big mistake. He had watched enough Duck video to know on fourth-and-1, Oregon is going with tempo.
“I was supposed to be the high safety, but I told my nickel, you’re going to be by yourself right here. I knew that was either going to be an inside run or quarterback’s pulling it off the edge,” Grant said.
Sure enough, Oregon quarterback Bo Nix went for the run, only to be met in the backfield by Grant for a one-yard loss.
From there, Oregon State took over. It wasn’t easy, even after the Beavers took a 38-34 lead on Isaiah Newell’s 6-yard touchdown run, his second of the game. The Ducks responded with a drive that tested the Beavers’ mettle. Oregon had first and goal at the OSU 5, and took four cracks at the end zone. The Ducks never got close to the goal line.
Oregon State finished out the game with one first down and three joyous victory kneel downs.
This wasn’t beating Stanford or Fresno State with last-minute rallies. This was the Ducks, a game Grant said “as Oregon kids, you’ve got that game circled on your calendars. You’re ready for it. You know how much it means. … they’re obviously a great team, but we’re a better team.”
For as much talk as there’s been about the meaning of this season – the best since 2012 but in reality, nearly as satisfying as 2000 given where OSU has been of late – it would have felt a little empty without a win over Oregon.
“This win changes things in regard to this season. We found a way to win close games. And getting eight wins was nice. For us to be able to finish this way at home, to get to nine, the senior piece, against a team that we’ve got a bunch of respect for, it means a ton,” Smith said.
After the game, Smith decided to have 10 different seniors go to the media interview podium, one by one, to answer questions. For most games, that would have been overkill. Saturday, it felt right.
“All the seniors who have given up so much and sacrificed so much for this program. To see if go out like this … there’s nothing better,” Colletto said.
The seniors have memories. But also a vision for what’s coming.
“I’m very excited to see what the Beavers are going to do the next couple years when we’re all gone,” Lindsey said.
Nick Daschel reported from Corvallis
–Nick Daschel | firstname.lastname@example.org | @nickdaschel