SAN DIEGO — Oregon State rushed for 10 yards, lost two fumbles and committed 13 penalties on Saturday night. But a Terron Ward 10-yard touchdown catch with 2:40 to play and a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown by Steven Nelson with 2:31 to play gave the Beavers a wild 34-30 comeback victory over San Diego State.
"We'll worry about all of that tomorrow. The running game, the penalties, all of that," said Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, whose team moved to 3-1 this season. "Tonight it feels good to get a win."
When Oregon State's Brandin Cooks lost a fumble late in the fourth quarter, the possibility of a Beaver comeback looked slim. The turnover gave SDSU the ball deep inside OSU territory with a six-point lead and under 10 minutes to play.
But the OSU defense, aided by a 15-yard penalty on SDSU, held the Aztecs to a field goal. Yet that still left the Beavers needing two scores with only 5:18 left in the game.
And then everything changed. Quarterback Sean Mannion drove the Beavers 81 yards in 2:38, connecting with Ward for the 10-yard score to cut the lead to 30-28.
The Beavers, with all three timeouts remaining, elected to kickoff deep rather than try for an onside kick. On the second play of the SDSU drive, quarterback Quinn Kaehler threw an errant screen pass that Nelson intercepted and returned 16 yards for a touchdown and an improbable 34-30 lead.
"We got the right amount of pressure on the quarterback, and he held it a little bit," Nelson said. "It looked like he panicked when he threw it, and I just took advantage of it."
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL: As for Cooks, he was pleased with the win but disappointed in his own performance.
"I'm happy we got the win, I'm really happy," Cooks said. "But I've got some personal things to fix. The mistakes I made, I take that upon myself."
Cooks caught 14 passes for 141 yards, moving into seventh place all-time on the OSU receiving list with 2,181 career yards. But he misfielded a punt that pinned his team against its own goal line, and his fumble nearly cost OSU the game.
But Nelson, a junior college transfer playing his first season for the Beavers, was more than happy to redeem Cooks with the game-clinching pick-six.
"After that play, he came over and said he loved me and just thanked me," Nelson said. "That feels great to step up for him."
PENALTIES GALORE: Despite pulling off the win, Oregon State was penalized 13 times in the game for 99 yards, including 11 for 79 yards in the first half. A sequence of plays in the first half highlighted the mistakes.
Trailing 17-14 in the second quarter, the Beavers penalized themselves into a 24-14 halftime deficit. Following a stalled OSU drive, SDSU's Rene Siluano fair-caught the Beavers' punt at his own 16-yard line, but OSU was flagged for interfering with the catch, giving the Aztecs an extra 15 yards to their own 31.
On the ensuing Aztec drive, the Beavers were flagged twice on second down — once for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and once for a defensive holding at the goal line. Both penalties turned out to be costly and gave SDSU extra plays and extra yardage on a drive that culminated with an Adam Muema 2-yard touchdown run and a 10-point SDSU halftime lead.
O-LINE SHUFFLE: No doubt a contributing factor to the penalty problems was the play of the offensive line.
A unit that was already missing Grant Enger and Roman Sapolu lost starting center Josh Mitchell in the first half with a right ankle injury. That moved starting right tackle Isaac Seumalo to center and brought true freshman Sean Harlow in at right tackle. Harlow teamed with guard Grant Bays to form an all-freshman right side of the line of scrimmage that struggled with false-start penalties and protecting Mannion.
"We knew there was going to be a ton of pressure," Riley said. "It's really hard when you've got a lot of new faces on the offensive line and you're not running the ball. The combination of those two things is bad."
EXTRA POINTS: The Beavers clinched the game when Ryan Murphy intercepted another Kaehler pass and the offense gained a first down to run out the clock "¦ It was redemption for Cooks, who gained the final first down to put the game away with a 12-yard carry "¦ Tight end Kellen Clute caught a touchdown in the first quarter, giving him two touchdowns on two catches for the season. He added two more catches later in the game to spoil his perfect touchdown-to-catch ratio "¦ OSU failed to score in both the second and third quarters, marking the first two quarters this year they've failed to put points on the board.