Rivalry games are a tricky thing.
No. 17 Oregon found that out on Friday as the streaking Ducks found themselves in an unexpected shootout against Oregon State in the 119th Civil War.
The Ducks (9-3, 7-2), who bid farewell to several key senior defensive players in their final home game including defensive end DeForest Buckner and linebacker Joe Walker, entered the game as near five-touchdown favorites against a Beavers team that had scored only 31 total points in its previous three games.
But in the second half, Oregon surrendered 35 points to a previously impotent Beavers offense and found themselves in a dogfight before emerging with a 52-42 victory for their eighth straight win in the rivalry.
“I just felt like guys let off the gas pedal,” Buckner said. “In a game like this, a rivalry game with Oregon State, every year they come out and they give us their best and we can’t let up on a team like that. They have nothing to lose so they’re going to pull out all the tricks. They’re going to do everything they can to win."
Under a new regime with head coach Gary Andersen, the thought was that Oregon State (2-10, 0-9) would be competitive in the series eventually, just not this season.
After all, Oregon entered the game with a five game win streak and was fresh off of knocking out USC six days prior and Oregon State has struggled through growing pains and injuries all season. And after allowing an opening touchdown drive thanks to some creative plays from Oregon State, Oregon proceeded to shut them down.
Earning a 31-7 halftime lead after holding the Beavers to just 96 yards of total offense in 29 plays, the Oregon defense came out of the break flat and allowed the Beavers to climb back into the contest.
“All of a sudden we didn’t have the same attention to detail,” defensive coordinator Don Pellum said. “In any game, particular rivalry games, if you give people momentum they’re going to take it. So we didn’t do a good job of executing. We didn’t do a good enough job coaching it and the players didn’t do a good enough job of responding.”
In the second half the Ducks lost Walker and Oregon State roared back to life behind freshman running back Ryan Nall and a rotating quarterback system composed primarily of third-string quarterback Marcus McMariyon and former starter Seth Collins.
While Nall did the heavy lifting by gaining 140 of his 174 rushing yards in the half alone, Collins narrowed the Ducks 24 point lead to 10 with back-to-back touchdowns on quarterback keepers, two of three he had on the day. After Oregon responded with a touchdown, McMariyon added another keeper score and the Beavers added a 78-yard punt return touchdown by Victor Bolden to narrow the gap to a field goal.
Following another Ducks touchdown, the defense still wasn’t able to stop the bleeding and let Nall free on a 66-yard touchdown run with just over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter to make it 45-42.
“We could’ve played some better series in the second half,” Pellum said. “Once again, it wasn’t one person. One play it’s a d-tackle out of the gap. The next play it’s a linebacker overrunning the gap. It was a combination of different things that contributed to it. We had chances and we should’ve took care of it and we didn’t.”
But, unlike against Washington State earlier in the year, the Ducks had enough offensive firepower to overcome the onslaught and the defense eventually forced a turnover on downs with just over two minutes left to seal the game.
Disappointing as it may be given Oregon State’s troubles for most of the season, the Ducks were still happy to come away with the win. And Pellum, who has a long history with the rivalry dating back to his days as a player in the early 1980s, noted that rivalry games can bring unexpected results.
“I’ve been in, gosh, 30-31 of these Civil Wars,” Pellum said. “I’ve been in a bunch of them. And they always have interesting twists and turns and the games are never over until they’re over. Until that whistle blows, they’re never over. That’s why there can never be any relaxing because it’s not that type of a game.”