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Beavers check their slide and silence the critics

CORVALLIS — Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis declined an interview request Saturday at Reser Stadium.

Maybe De Carolis thought he should let his football team do the talking on this chilly night.

Written off and supposedly reeling, the Beavers rose up to end Arizona State’s College Football Playoff hopes with a 35-27 victory.

The Beavers struck hard early, sagged midway through the game, and rallied with a vengeance for the come-from-behind victory.

Michael Doctor supplied the exclamation point by intercepting a Taylor Kelly pass and returning it 35 yards for the clinching touchdown.

The victory snapped a five-game slide, kept OSU’s flickering bowl hopes alive and perhaps silenced —at least for the moment — the growing criticism of coach Mike Riley.

Riley had his team motivated early, when Storm Woods and Terron Ward broke scoring runs of 78 and 66 yards as the Beavers grabbed a 14-3 lead.

And he made the key adjustments late, as OSU rallied from a 24-14 halftime deficit.

The critics, who have questioned Riley’s commitment to the running game, his offensive philosophy, his clock management and his defense’s execution, had less to complain about in this one.

The Beavers hammered ASU on the ground early, and struck over the top late.

They picked up an all-out ASU blitz in the fourth quarter, freeing up Sean Mannion to hit Jordan Villamin for the 67-yard touchdown pass that produced the go-ahead touchdown.

For this week anyway, Riley pro-style offense didn’t look outdated and his defense stopped a dual-threat quarterback, the dangerous Kelly.

For sure, it’s one game and doesn’t change a recent history that had seen the Beavers lose 10 of their previous 11 conference games.

And it doesn’t make OSU bowl eligible. The Beavers will have to beat either Washington this week in Seattle, or an Oregon team that seems playoff bound in the Nov. 29 Civil War to qualify for the postseason.

But it does signify that Riley hasn’t lost his team, and the Beavers haven’t hit bottom.

Riley’s teams often have improved as the season has progressed, and this one is showing signs of life.

Certainly, the Beavers came back from the dead against ASU on a night in which the temperature dipped below 30 degrees in the second half.

It’s too bad there weren’t more people in the Reser seats to see it.

The announced attendance was 40,525 but there couldn’t have been more than 30,000 people in the stadium.

Some of that certainly is due to ESPN’s insistence on scheduling a mid-November game at Reser for 7:45 p.m.

Many of OSU’s fans travel for hours to get to the stadium. A game this late makes for a long night, a difficult drive home and an early morning.

And when the temperature is 27 degrees early in the third quarter, that inside-the-stadium ambiance loses some of its appeal.

The conference has surrendered scheduling to its television partners, and ESPN wanted this game in the late time slot, no matter how it killed the gate.

Of course, if the Beavers had been winning games and charting a course toward a nice, postseason destination, people would have been there, no matter how late the kickoff or frigid the conditions.

And the sad truth for OSU fans is that a sub-.500 record and a small television market make the Beavers less than prime-time television material.

They have been slapped with another late start next week in Seattle, where they will play Washington at 7:30 p.m.

But on this night and in this game, the Beavers overcame the weather, the late start, the critics,the Sun Devils and the prognosticators to win a game that not many people thought they could.

It was an inspired performance.

When De Carolis chose to forgo the interview, maybe it’s because he could think of nothing else to add.