STANFORD, Calif. — After outscoring Stanford 23-7 in the second and third quarters, Oregon State found itself driving down the field in the fourth quarter just trying to deplete the clock to all zeroes.
Unfortunately for the Beavers, quarterback Cody Vaz let both the ball and the game slip out of his hands with a fumble on the Beaver 29-yard line, leading to a game-winning touchdown pass by Stanford with 5:07 left in the game.
The pass went from Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan, playing in his first-career start, to tight end Zach Ertz and led to the Cardinal's third straight win over the Beavers.
"When you look back on it, there's always plays you'd like to have back, especially that play where I fumbled," Vaz said. "There's no excuse for that and I feel like I let my teammates down. It was a tough game. We knew it was going to be that way.
"I feel horrible about it, but it's behind us now and we'll go in and watch film, correct our mistakes and move on to the next one."
OSU head coach Mike Riley agreed the best thing the team can do now is go forward.
"It's a tough loss," he said. "Losses are frustrating and there's no getting around that. What's important is that we don't let this game beat us again."
It may have been such a tough loss because of how well the Beavers climbed back from a very flat first quarter. OSU had minus 4 total yards after the first 14:35 of play and allowed Stanford to jump out to an early 14-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Stepfan Taylor and a touchdown pass from Hogan to Ryan Hewitt.
"They had long, sustained drives and did a nice job of executing and we had a hard time in the beginning and that's what happened the first quarter, the whole first half, really," Riley said.
The Beavers, however, would find their stride beginning in the early minutes of the second quarter with a 7-yard touchdown run from Terron Ward to make the score 14-7 in favor of Stanford. A 19-yard field goal from Trevor Romaine with 2:21 left in the second quarter sent the game into halftime with Stanford 14-10 lead.
OSU struck again early in the third quarter when Vaz found Markus Wheaton on a 22-yard touchdown strike to set the score at 17-14, the Beavers' first lead. Two more field goals by Romaine, one from 42 yards and the other nearly four minutes later from 44 yards, put the Beavers up 23-14 with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
The field goals, though, did not suffice for the Beavers.
"Anytime you get into the red zone, you need to score touchdowns," Vaz said. "It's something we have to improve on and it would have been huge to get touchdowns instead of field goals."
Wheaton expressed similar sentiments.
"We dug ourselves into that early hole and couldn't get out of it at the end," he said. "The field goals didn't hurt us, not executing in the red zone hurt us."
The Cardinal scored for the first time since the first quarter on a catch-and-run play from Hogan to Taylor, who used a nasty stiff-arm at about the 10-yard line to clear his path to the end zone and decrease the Cardinal deficit to 23-21.
Scoring ceased until Vaz's fumble set up the touchdown pass from Hogan to Ertz.
The Beavers will spend their final three weeks of the season at home, beginning next week against California.
VAZ DOWN: Cody Vaz, making his third start of the season at quarterback, was not on the field for the team's final offensive play. A defensive player rolled over his ankle and forced him out of the game, leading to a one-play appearance by former starter Sean Mannion. Mannion's only pass, on fourth-and-16 with just over two minutes left, fell incomplete.
WHEATON CLIMBING: Wide receiver Markus Wheaton continues to climb the all-time record lists at Oregon State.
Wheaton's 91 yards receiving vaulted him into fourth place on the school's all-time receiving yards list. He now has 197 career catches, also good enough for fourth all-time at OSU, for 2,628 yards.
Wheaton's third-quarter touchdown catch brought his season total to nine, which ties him for fourth on OSU's single-season touchdown receptions list. It was also his 14th career touchdown catch at OSU, ninth all-time.