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Defensive reserve keys OSU

CORVALLIS -- Toalei Talataina still had the look of a man on a mission -- only a different kind.

Playing his first game since returning from a two-year church commitment, the junior defensive end outscored Nevada single-handedly Saturday as Oregon State opened its football season by routing the Wolfe Pack 48-6 at Parker Stadium.

It was pretty much a dream game for me, he said.

Talataina, starting in place of suspended star Inoke Breckterfield, scored in the second period after gathering in a blocked punt at the Nevada 3-yard line.

That touchdown came after Oregon State had forced Nevada into a fourth down at its own 9-yard line. Jamil Braithwaite flew in from the left, lay himself out and swatted Norm Brady's punt onto the turf.

The ball bounced high in the air and Talataina gathered it in the manner of Charles Barkley going after an offensive rebound. Talataina landed on his feet at the 3-yard line and dashed into the end zone to give OSU a 21-0 lead.

Early in the fourth quarter, he added a second touchdown. This time, Talataina was the beneficiary of Bryan Jones' fumble-producing hit on Nevada backup quarterback Erik Stidham. The ball bounded directly into Talataina's hands, and he returned it 60 yards for the Beavers' final TD.

I thought our defense was overwhelming for the other team, Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. We looked fast. The quarterback never could get settled.

I was worried about playing this type of team without our best pass rusher, Riley said, referring to Breckterfield, whom the coach had suspended for the season opener after the player had been involved in a disturbance at a bar. Obviously, we had some compensating factors.

Did they ever -- starting with the fill-in who, for one day anyway, became a hero.

Something I like to do is visualize, the 6-foot-2, 233-pounder said. That was something I did last night. I visualized myself scoring touchdowns, and it came true.

The irony is that Talataina, 22, had never scored a touchdown before. Chalk one up to the power of positive thinking.

It was a big homecoming for me, my first game back, he said.

A year ago at this time, Talataina was in San Diego, pounding the pavement and talking religion as he worked on the mission that took him away from the OSU program after the 1995 season.

This was the hardest time, he said, referring to missionary work in the autumn. I'd be out there knocking on doors and the TV would be on, and it would be in the back of my mind. I'd see my fellow teammates and wonder how they were doing. It was tough on me. It's great to be back.

Great even though he's returned to a team that, in his absence, extended its drought of winning seasons to 27 years. But as he works to end that streak, he'll have the help of those teammates he missed while he was away -- including, eventually, Breckterfield, his buddy from his native Hawaii.

It's hard. We know Inoke is probably the best defensive player we have, Talataina said of having to face Nevada without him. ``We're tight. I knew him back home. It's sad he couldn't be out there, but he'll be back next week, tearing it up.

Talataina said he has no designs on keeping Breckterfield's starting job for next Saturday's game with Baylor in Corvallis.

Oh no, Talataina said. That's his position. I was just trying to do my part. Those were big shoes to fill.