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Beaver notes: Another close call, and loss

CORVALLIS – After Oregon State lost a heartbreaker to Stanford 27-24 in Pac-12 football Saturday night at Reser Stadium, Beaver head coach Jonathan Smith’s message to his team was that he appreciated them.

And that winning is hard.

“And it’s tough,” Smith said. “There’s no other way to sugarcoat this thing. I mean, these guys have been working to win games and we haven’t won as many as we’d have liked, so it hurts.”

Oregon State dropped to 2-4 on the season, and those four losses have been by an average of just over six points per game; the last three have been by an average of just five points per game.

And that makes losing hard, too.

In a season where OSU has been competitive in every game, the Beavers are now assured of their seventh straight losing season.

“It sucks, to say the least,” Beaver defensive end Isaac Hodgins said. “No matter what the record is or what the score was, we have a job of just coming back and clearing the film and then just getting better. That’s the philosophy: just get better.”

Much of Saturday night, the Beavers were pretty good. At halftime, they led 14-9 and were outgaining the Cardinal 249-191 in total yards. With 4:13 left in the third quarter, that advantage had grown to 337-255 and OSU was up 21-16.

By then, for stretches of the game, it seemed Oregon State was on the verge of taking control of a close contest if only the Beavers could make it a two-score game. They had four chances to do that - twice with a 14-6 lead, once with a 14-9 lead and once with a 21-16 lead – but came up empty each time.

Managing to stay close, Stanford eventually spent over five minutes driving for the game-winning field goal that came with 1:48 to go. For the second straight week, the Beavers had a chance to drive for a winning score in the closing minutes but came up short and Oregon State was left with another close loss in a season filled with them.

“I think that’s kind of the narrative throughout the year, OSU quarterback Chance Nolan said. “We were so close in so many of these games. We competed all the way through four quarters but at this level you’ve got to be better at those end-of-game situations. You’ve got to produce and come out on the winning side of things and tonight we just fell a little short.”

Oregon State is scheduled to have one more game; the Pac-12 will determine pairings and sites for the season’s final weekend, though in this pandemic-altered season nothing is assured.

“We’ve got one more game,” Smith said. “We don’t know where it’s at or who we’re playing or when we’re playing but I do believe that these guys will be anxious to get another opportunity next week to be able to play.”

Win that game against whoever, wherever, and the Beavers will finish at 3-4, with a better winning percentage (.429) than last season’s 5-7 record provided (.417).

“I think we are continuing to build and add momentum to what we’ve got going,” Smith said. “I’m confident with where our group is and with so much coming back over the next year, two years, I’m confident we can continue the momentum and get ourselves to a bowl game.”

PASSING GRADE: Making his second start, Nolan was much sharper than the week before at Utah. He finished 17-for-30 passing for 221 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception; he also rushed eight times for 50 yards, displaying a mobility seldom seen in Beaver quarterbacks.

“I think he made a huge jump,” Smith said. “You could just feel his comfort level out there. He was moving his feet, making some plays running. He was accurate on some deep balls to stretch the field. I thought he played really, really well.”

Nolan felt the game slowed down for him compared to his initial start against Utah.

“I felt I was seeing everything that we went over on film study,” Nolan said. “But there’s still a lot of things I know at the quarterback position that I can be better at. I had two delay of game penalties that I need to be better at watching the play clock. We might have got the call in late but I’ve got to see that and maybe call timeout and not take a penalty.”

One of those was particularly costly. With 7:33 remaining, the Beavers had a fourth-and-2 from the Cardinal 3 and were lined up to go for it; the delay penalty resulted in Everett Hayes’ field goal that tied the game 24-24.

“There’s just some managing things about the game that I’m learning from,” Nolan said. “The college football level is definitely a faster-paced game and there’s a lot of things I can do to learn from this game for sure.”

Nolan’s numbers came despite two of OSU’s top receivers – Trevon Bradford and Champ Flemings – being out with injuries. A big contributor in their absence was Tre’Shaun Harrison, a junior transfer from Florida State who made his Beaver debut; he didn’t become eligible until Oregon State’s fall term ended Friday. Harrison had five catches for 91 yards, including a 61-yarder.

“He’s a speedy, big, physical receiver and he runs great routes,” Nolan said. “It’s awesome having him out there and being able to use him as another weapon, especially with some of the other receivers injured. A lot of guys tonight stepped up and battled their butts off.”

COLLETTO CRUISES: It’s no secret: when Jack Colletto enters the game on offense, he’s the one who’s going to be carrying the ball. The quarterback-turned-linebacker still has a knack for being effective in short-yardage situations; even when Stanford knew what was coming Saturday night they couldn’t stop it.

Colletto rushed four times for 32 yards, picking up crucial first downs for OSU. That included one play where a Cardinal defender made contact well short of the first-down marker but Colletto bulled his way for a 9-yard gain.

“He’s physical,” Smith said. “We have confidence in that package. I think our offense gets energized when he comes in the game and I see that role continuing because he was successful again tonight”.

FOCUS ON FUMBLES: There were three fumbles in the game and all three were critical to the outcome.

The final one was definitive: With OSU driving toward a possible tying or go-ahead score in the final minute, Nolan scrambled and was hit at the Cardinal 30; Stanford recovered at its 16 to seal the game.

“They all told me to keep my head up,” Nolan said of his teammates’ reaction. “That hurts me a lot, that play. I feel like a lot of the weight’s on me from that. But they all came up to me and told me keep your head up, keep going. They were very positive to me after the game.”

The other two fumbles were both by Stanford in its own end of the field, and both were recovered by the Cardinal when a bounce toward the Beavers could have been huge – coming up with the ball would have put OSU in great position to make it a two-score game.

The first came with about seven minutes to go in the third quarter, OSU leading 21-16 and Stanford at its own 38. Quarterback Davis Mills was hit by the Beaver cornerback Nashon Wright while trying to pass; the ball rolled around and Mills was able to get back on it at the Stanford 28.

The other came late in the third quarter on Stanford’s next drive with OSU still in front 21-16 and the Cardinal at its own 35. This time it was OSU safety Kitan Oladapo knocking the ball out of Mills’ hands, but Stanford’s Nathanial Peat recovered and the Cardinal completed the drive for a touchdown and a 24-21 lead.

“When we get the ball out we just have to find a way to come up with it,” Hodgins said. “Because if we stop the drive on some of those scoring drives, who knows what the score would have been.”

FLIPPING THE SCRIPT: Oregon State was up 14-9 at halftime – the first time this season the Beavers led at intermission. The Beavers had made a habit of strong finishes through five games, outscoring opponents 80-62 in the second half, but Stanford got the better of the third and fourth quarters this time around.

It didn’t help the Beavers that two of their top players, one on each side of the ball – linebacker Avery Roberts and running back Jermar Jefferson – missed much of the second half. Roberts, who had 21 tackles a week ago at Utah, was helped off with just over four minutes to go in the third quarter; Jefferson limped off early in the fourth quarter after rushing for 80 yards.

Smith said the severity of both injuries wouldn’t be known until early this week.

ODDS AND ENDS: Stanford now leads the all-time series 59-25-3 and has won 11 straight over OSU. Saturday was the Beavers’ second straight three-point loss to the Cardinal in Corvallis; last season, a last-play field goal gave Stanford a 31-28 win Jefferson now has 2,820 career rushing yards, ranking him fifth in that category in OSU history.

Stanford's Scooter Harrington makes a juggling catch in front of Oregon State's Alex Austin.