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Beavers’ tight ends get into the mix

BOULDER, Colo. — With Sean Mannion’s top target, Victor Bolden, doubtful for most of the week after already missing last week’s Oregon State football game against Southern Cal, Caleb Smith was ready to take his reps on passing routes Saturday afternoon at Folsom Field.

Luckily for the Oregon State football team, Bolden still was able to play, giving Minnion another look. But in the Beavers’ 36-31 victory over Colorado, Smith and fellow tight end Connor Hamlett kept churning the wheels for OSU.

Smith caught a game-altering touchdown in the fourth quarter and finished with four catches for a team-leading 67 yards, and Hamlett caught another six passes for 52 yards in the Pac-12 victory.

“There were so many disappointing things about that USC game that just hit me right in the face about what has to happen, and (tight end involvement) is one of them,” head coach Mike Riley said after the contest, which moved Oregon State to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in conference play. “They’re good players, very capable of blocking, pass receiving, and we’ve got to be able to utilize them as best we can.”

“We just kind of try to figure out whoever is hot, get the run game going, get the play-action going and let everything else follow,” Smith said. “We’re really still just getting into our playbook as far as plays for the tight ends, but I’m pretty excited about where things could go.”

Smith made several big catches, his biggest coming on a first down from the CU 24-yard line with 14:20 remaining in the game. Draped with double coverage — a pass interference was called on the play — Smith hauled in his first TD catch of the season right beside the pylon.

That brought the score to 30-21 in favor of OSU, its largest lead since taking a 14-0 advantage early.

“I just go and try to make the plays when they’re given to me,” said Smith, who entered the game with seven catches. “You only get a certain amount of opportunities during a game and you have to make the most of them.”

For Mannion, Smith’s end zone grab halted a drought of 12 quarters without a TD pass. He last threw one in the Hawaii win.

SPRUCED UP FOR SPRUCE: Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce was easy to spot out on the football field, as he was sporting a neon pink arm sleeve representing October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

However, when it came to the outcome, Spruce was not a factor. He finished with six catches, just 35 yards and, most importantly zero touchdowns. Beavers Steven Nelson and Larry Scott each got equal opportunity to stop the nation’s No. 1 receiver, and Scott said the team was fully prepared for what he brought to the table.

“We just came prepared for a good receiver, ready to go,” Scott said. “Good receivers get their catches, but if you lead them into no big catches, at the end of the day you did your job.”

When Colorado got the ball back for their final possession, it was Nelson who made a play on Spruce to cause a drop on third-and-6. That, among other plays, brought a smile to Scott’s face.

“I felt like in the second half, we caught our wind … and that stance shows what our defense is,” he said. “Once we got settled down, we played well.”

THIRD DOWN DEFICIENCY: Through three quarters, the Oregon State offense put itself in nine third-and-long situations, a trend that continues to haunt the team. It was obvious on the scoreboard, as the Beavers only scored a pair of Trevor Romaine field goals in the middle 30 minutes and watched CU take a lead by halftime.

But on the team’s final scoring drive, a 12-play march that ate up 5:43 of the fourth quarter, OSU converted two much shorter third-down plays. Terron Ward converted a third-and-3 at the OSU 36, and Mannion found Ricky Ortiz for a 9-yard reception on third-and-2 at the CU 49.

ALTITUDE ADJUSTMENT: Oregon State last played in Boulder in 1988, well before most of the players on the roster were born. How did Riley feel the altitude affected his players?

“I don’t know, I’ll have to talk to them,” he said. “It didn’t affect me. I felt good.”

A GRAND FEAT: Mannion entered Saturday’s game needing just four completions for 1,000 in his career, and with a 9-yard pass to Richard Mullaney with 2:33 to go in the first quarter, he became just the 24th quarterback in FBS history to reach the mark.