A stunner: Heartbreak in Utah

IT REALLY FELT like it would be enough. An eight point lead, with the way the Beaver defense was playing and 2:11 left on the clock? The Beaver Nation could just about taste the victory. But Utah went 80 years in a heartbeat, got new life when a penalty was called on the two point conversion, and then nailed the game winning field goal with no time left on the clock.

The Beaver defense, featuring a cadre of personnel, performed admirably, and Lyle Moevao, who threw for over 300 yards, was money in crunch time. Alas, it all slipped away in the final moments.

On third and three with time running down and the Beavs clinging to a one point lead, Lyle Moevao let the Utah blitz come to him before hitting Jacquizz Rodgers on a screen pass. Quizz took it 41 yards to the Utah 3-yard line -- with Howard Croom and Gregg Peat throwing blocks all the way. On third and goal, Moevao hit Brady Camp in the end zone and an eight point lead.

The Beaver D had held Utah quarterback Brian Johnson to 30 yards passing for the entire second half -- and had held the Utes scoreless. But Utah suddenly found a groove, went 80 yards in 42 seconds and a late flag, a very late pass interference flag, against Greg Laybourn gave Utah more new life, and the Utes converted the two-point conversion on the second try.

Replays on the penalty were ultimately inconclusive -- the Utah receiver stopped and reached back, Laybourn's momentum took him into him as the ball sailed on past. If you're a Utah fan, you were in vociferous agreement with the call. If you're a Beaver, it felt like you got robbed.

But time was still left on the clock. And Oregon State could not manage a first down. Utah did, gaining 34 yards to set up the last second, game winning field goal. Game over, as the Beavers fell 31-28 to the No. 15 Utes.

THE O-LINE AND Jacquizz Rodgers, so proficient in the win over No. 1 USC, could not plow enough road nor find enough daylight against a stacked Utah defense. Quizz still rushed for 101 yards on the ground but every one of those hashes was hard fought, and the momentum creating sprints were few and far between.

Slade Norris had a monster game on defense for Oregon State, racking up tackles, sacks, hurries and forcing fumbles. Indeed, the Beaver defensive end was at times virtually unblockable. And he was hardly the only standout on the black and orange stop corps on the night.

ON THE FIRST play of the game, Moevao connected with James Rodgers for 15 yards -- the first four OSU plays were passes, highlighted by a 43 yard gainer by James Rodgers on a drag route underneath. The Beavs capped the drive with a 37-yard field goal by Justin Kahut, who sat out last week with a groin injury.

Mike Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker went with a lot of rotation early -- the first quarter saw Sioeli Nau, Dwight Roberson, Ben Terry, Dennis Christopher, Isaiah Cook and others among those getting early turns. And Al Afalava, still nursing a groin injury, had a big night playing less than a full game, with Austin Hall subbing in and out at safety. Cornerback Tim Clark did yeoman's work for an absent Brandon Hughes (hamstring).

With the game tied 3-3, Afalava smartly stepped in front of a pass, racing 26 yards through traffic to paydirt and putting OSU on top 9-3 after Kahut's PAT sailed wide right.

Quizz was used sparingly on the first two drives, and when he did get his hands on the pigskin, the Beaver offensive line and Quizz found Utah's defensive front seven unyielding.

Moevao had three passes batted down in the first quarter, and Utah responded to the Beaver TD with a huge kickoff return all the way down to the OSU 15-yard line. But six plays later, the Beavs had surrendered only two yards net and forced the Utes to kick a field goal. On their next drive, however, Utah enjoyed big pass plays to take their first lead of the night, 13-9.

The Oregon State offense, who had been out of rhythm since the game's opening drive, gave up a sack and Moevao's fumble was followed by Utah covering the 27 yards to the end zone in five plays to take a 20-9 advantage with 2:31 left before the half. Oregon State desperately needed some offensive success.

And they found it.

QUIZZ FOUND A sliver of daylight on a draw play, froze the first would-be tackler and took off for 33 yards to grab Oregon State some much needed momentum. A middle screen to Quizz covered 22 more hashes. Two plays later, a picture perfect 24-yard strike from Moevao to Shane Morales -- again clutch all night long -- and the Beavers were in the end zone. The four play, 80-yard drive took but 1:18.

The Beavs got a second chance at a two point conversion following a personal foul against Utah but Quizz was stopped short and Utah went into the locker room at halftime with a 20-15 lead.

THE THIRD QUARTER belonged to the OSU defense, led in large part by Stephen Paea, who plugged gaps, chased down quarterbacks and help turn the Utah running game into an afterthought.

Pernnell Booth recovered a fumble forced by Norris on Utah's opening second half drive and the Beavs were in business at the Utah 35 yard line. Moevao hit Sammie Stroughter and Morales to set up Quizz' run up the gut for six yards -- a rare success story against the middle of the Utah line on Thursday -- and a 21-20 Beaver lead, as another two point try failed.

The Beaver defense stuffed Utah throughout the third quarter but the Beaver offense let a prime scoring opportunity go by the wayside towards quarter's end when a sack and fumble preceded a 43 yard field missed goal attempt.

With the Beavs protecting the slimmest of leads, the OSU defense again brought the hammer down and forced a punt. Moevao went to work, hitting Camp and Darrell Catchings for successive first downs and moving into Utah territory. But the drive stalled and after a punt, Utah set up with 10:54 remaining.

With Utah nearly in field goal position, the Beaver D rose yet again to the occasion and forced a punt. Oregon State began on their own 20 yard line with 8:53 left on the clock. Catchings' move on a bubble screen helped turn a third and long into a fresh set of downs and a critical mistake by the Utah defense, a 15-yard facemask penalty, extended the Beaver possession.

On third and three, Oregon State threw the screen pass to Quizz. A few moments later, up by eight, and it felt for all the world as if Oregon State was going to knock off both the No. 1 and No. 15 team in the land on successive Thursday nights.

But the football gods apparently had other ideas.

NOTABLE NOTE:
  • The Beavs had four sacks -- Norris and Paea logging two apiece.

  • Oregon State held Utah to 337 total yards, 95 of those coming in the final 2:18. The Beavs had 405 yards of total offense.


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