Final Score: Sacramento St. 29 Oregon St. 28 (OT)
Oregon St. has had some bad luck breaking in rookie kickers! Saturday, true freshman Trevor Romaine encountered the ghost of Alexis Serna, and his potential game winning kick encountered the right upright as time ran out, sending the sun-baked contest into overtime, where the FCS Sacramento St. Hornets out of the Big Sky Conference would go on to pull out a 29-28 upset win, their first ever against a Division I/aka FBS opponent.
Beaver fans will clearly recall a similar start to Serna's career, where his misses cost Oregon St. a season opening win over LSU. A program that's still winning notable games, including the biggest one of this year's opening weekend, a 40-27 victory at the expense of third ranked and two time Pac-10 defending champion Oregon.
Fortunately for Oregon St., Serna's college and pro careers still worked out pretty well. So there's hope Romaine, who met or exceeded expectations in everything else he did all day, making his first two field goal attempts, and both of his extra point attempts, and consistently providing excellent kickoffs, 4 of which went into or through the end zone, will have better days ahead too.
But while Romaine's miss directly cost the Beavers the win, he was far from the only contributor to one of the most unlikely losses in Oregon St. history.
The Beavers proceeded to score in two plays in their overtime possession, as another true freshman, running back Malcolm Agnew, who is the first true freshman to ever start at the position for Oregon St. in a season opener (even Jacquizz Rodgers didn't start at the beginning of his first year), capped the 9th. best day ever by a Beaver running back, with a 17 yard touchdown run, his third score of the day, which gave him 223 yards on 33 carries, which leads the NCAA after opening weekend. Romaine bounced back from his crowd deflating doink with a perfect PAT for a 28-21 lead.
"You look at all the ways you lose a game, and we did them all," head coach Mike Riley admitted. "All those things happened, and we started pressing, and got nervous. And that only made it worse."
But then the Hornets did what they had done all day; they got a senior wide receiver loose behind an inexperienced Beaver secondary. Twice. That time it was Brandyn Reed, who had also eluded coverage back in the third quarter, to haul in a flanker pass from Morris Norrise that opened a 21-6 Sacramento St. lead.
And senior quarterback Jeff Fleming found him both times, first for a touchdown, above, the fourth of the afternoon the Hornets got behind the Beaver secondary, and then, a two point conversion that set off a celebration amongst the few Scaramento St. fans that populated the corner of an otherwise silently shocked Reser Stadium crowd of 41,581.
The wrong team's crowd got to celebrate the win Saturday, at least as far as Beaver
Nation was concerned.
Sacramento St. had initially shown a kick formation that suggested they would play for another overtime, but they dropped out of that alignment, forcing an Oregon St. timeout a second before the snap. On try two at the conversion, Reed escaped contact with CB Jordan Poyer that left Poyer on the carpet, and Reed wide open in the corner of the end zone.
Poyer was in the secondary rotation last season as a safety, but was making his first collegiate start as a defensive back, and his first ever as a corner, dating back through his high school career, spent at the safety position.
It was the last chapter in a day-long mystery that starred a lot of unfamiliar faces and names, both obscure ones from the Sacramento St. team that was underestimated, despite their pre-season 24th. ranking in the FCS, and the young Oregon St. team, which had more than 20 key players making either their first start, or playing in their first college game.
11 true freshmen dressed for the game, and 8 played, including 3 who started. 14 Beavers made their first start, including 8 on defense. And those counts don't even include safety Anthony Watkins, who didn't start until the end of last season, or CB Sean Martin, who played more than half the game after Rashaad Reynolds, him self a first time starter in place of the injured Brandon Hardin, cramped up in the 90 degree plus heat.
But it wasn't just the newcomers who provided mystery.
Junior starting quarterback Ryan Katz had talked during the off-season about working on better decision making, and making them quicker. Yet it was Katz who was as "off" as anyone.
Katz threw an interception that Osagie Odiase picked off, derailing Oregon St.'s first drive at the Sacramento St. 24 yard line, and didn't lead the Beavers into Hornet territory again until a 25 yard completion to Jordan Jenkins on the final play of the scoreless first quarter.
That drive included a 12 yard completion to WR Brandin Cooks, the third true freshman making his first start, in place of the still not activated James Rodgers, still rehabbing after 2 off-season knee surgeries (and like Agnew, the first true freshman to ever start at his position for Oregon St. in a season opener), and also a 13 yard run by Katz for a first down. But once Oregon St. got into the Sacramento St. red zone, a couple of incompletions forced the Beavers to settle for Romaine's first field goal, a 29 yarder 11:52 into the second quarter.
Oregon St. freshman kicker Trevor Romaine kicked brilliantly all day, until the game
was on the line.
The Hornets answered two and a half minutes later, with the first of two second period touchdown passes from Flemming to Chase Deadder, yet another of the Sacramento St. seniors who handled the pressure of the game better than the tense Beavers. Though that one was over Lance Mitchell, above, the lone experienced starter in the Oregon St. secondary. The scoring drive was aided by a pair of pass interference penalties, the first of which was the day's tribute to historically bad Pac-10 officiating that hasn't been completely corrected yet by Commissioner Larry Scott's overhaul of the conference's stripped shirts.
"It wasn't that they weren't into the game," Riley said of the many inexperienced players Oregon St. rolled into the fray, "but they were tight as a drum, and once things started to go wrong, they tensed up even more."
A Katz sack was the centerpiece of an Oregon St. three and out on their next possession, and Fleming answered, running and passing the Hornets on a 70 yard drive that culminated with another scoring pass to Deadder, this one behind Watkins, below.
Katz and company produced only 15 yards of offense the rest of the first half, and the Hornets buzzed off to the locker room with a 14-3 lead, to the sound of the first of what would be several stadium wide rounds of boos from frustrated Beaver fans.
The buzz around the stadium, and some subsequent opinion pieces, were already critical of the retooled Beaver offensive line. However, a closer look at the video (if there had been one; the game, only the third in Oregon St.'s last 44 games to not be televised, thanks to the disastrous Pac-10 tv contract that is finally expiring this year, and a non-existent third tier marketing plan [if Utah has at least local tv, why can't Oregon St. or Washington St.?]) would reveal that Katz often stood in the pocket too long, seemingly looking for the perfect play opportunity to emerge.
The indecision contributed to Katz completing only 11 of 22 passes, for just 87 yards, though he did run 4 times for 22 yards, including above for a first down.
It also got him benched, as Riley bypassed backup Cody Vaz, and started the second half with yet another red shirt freshman, Sean Manion, who would go on to play the entire second half, as well as the overtime period.
"We had planned all along to play Sean some," Riley explained later, "probably in the second quarter. But as the game unfolded, we thought it was better to try to get something going. But at halftime, we talked about it, and decided going with Sean at that point would be best for the program."
Manion initially mostly just handed the ball off, as 14 of the first 15 plays with him behind center were rushing plays. It was a contributing factor to Agnew's spectacular day. The first 6, all Agnew carries, produced 48 yards, and drove the Beavers to the Hornet 30 yard line. The drive eventually produced Romaine's second field goal, this one good from 45 yards, pulling Oregon St. within 14-6 barely 4 minutes into the third quarter.
But Fleming, who would eventually complete 22 of 35 passes for 257 yards, as well as running 13 times for 39 yards, connected on 3 of 4 short passes, which drew the inexperienced Oregon St. back 7 all ever closer to the line, and set up Norrise's 39 yard flanker pass to a wide open Reed, below, for the touchdown that left Oregon St. 15 points behind midway in the third quarter.
The Oregon St. secondary's repeated problem all day was their inability to maintain vertical spacing. Sacramento St. head coach Marshall Sperbeck, who is also the Hornet's play caller, as well as a former Beaver quarterback at the end of the Craig Fertig era, called a perfectly crafted game given the inexperienced Beaver secondary, and Fleming and company executed it almost flawlessly.
It would be wrong to characterize the Oregon St. coverage as soft, as it was in some cases over-aggression with positioning that allowed Sacramento St. receivers to escape to wide open spaces.
Oregon St. went three and out, but the Beavers finally got a break from their defense, when Ben Motter forced a Bryan Hillard fumble, and freshman DE Dylan Wynn, another of the "baby Beavers" who had a solid day, jumped on it at the Beaver 35 yard line.
An 11 run drive, 9 by Agnew, took over 5 minutes, but ended in Agnew's 1 yard touchdown run, and Romaine's first extra point pulled Oregon St. back within one possession.
Oregon St.'s defense held the Hornets, and Manion finally found some passing rhythm, completing a 69 yard pass to Marcus Wheaton, below, that set the Beavers up on the Sacramento St. 6 yard line. It was the best Oregon St. play of the day.
A pair of Agnew carries pushed the ball into the endzone, above, and Manion found Wheaton again on a crossing route, below, for the two point conversion that tied the game at 21 with over 8 minutes left to play.
The Oregon St. defense shut Sacramento St. down again, and it was looking like the Beavers were finally wearing the upstart Hornets down.
But after Agnew broke off a 30 yard run, and Cooks came up with 9 more on a fly sweep, Agnew committed his one big mistake of the game. Oregon St. spent 3 years during which Jacquizz Rodgers did many things as a running back. But one thing he never did was fumble. Agnew didn't get through his first game before doing that, below, and Joe Larche scooped it up and flew 58 yards down to the Oregon St. 28.
To Agnew's credit, after having fumbled away what was possibly a chance for the Beavers to win the game, he got up and ran down Larche, making the touchdown saving tackle.
"That was the second time we turned the ball over after we got down into field goal range," Riley noted. "Obviously, as we all saw, if we get anything out of either one of those possessions, it changes the game a lot."
Oregon St.'s defense dug in, and the Beavers used a pair of time outs to hold Sacramento St. out of the end zone, forcing a 28 yard field goal attempt.
Which was blocked by DT Castro Masaniai. Riley was widely criticized for deferring the one game suspension he assessed to Masaniai in the aftermath of his domestic incident with his girl friend after DT Kevin Frahm suffered a knee injury, instead of forcing Masaniai to set out what some had declared an "automatic win" over an "inferior FCS opponent" Oregon St. was a 27.5 point favorite to defeat. Didn't turn out to be such a bad decision.
Manion, playing with the hot hand, stayed in the game, and with 2 and a half minutes to go, led Oregon St. on what appeared to be a game winning drive. Manion completed 5 passes, and Agnew ran 4 more times for 19 yards, depositing the Beavers on the Hornet 5 yard line with 4 seconds left.
Talk of Oregon St.'s 21-19 win in the 2000 season opener over Big Sky opponent Eastern Washington, and the Beavers' subsequent run to the Fiesta Bowl buzzed through the stadium.
A false start penalty on Mike Remmers actually improved Romaine's angle on the kick. But with the band ready to break into the fight song, and a surprisingly large Beaver Dam crowd for a game during summer term poised atop the wall, ready to storm the field in celebration of the victory delivered by the collection of new Oregon St. heroes, Romaine hit the right upright squarely, and overtime was the result instead.
Buoyed by the almost instant touchdown, Beaver Nation bounced back from the stunning end of regulation, but Fleming maintained the poise that he had shown all afternoon, and despite the noise, engineered the 6 play drive that provided opening weekend's only upset of an FBS team by an FCS squad.
Sacramento St. senior quarterback Jeff Fleming was unflappable all afternoon.
Riley didn't address the quarterback situation going forward after the game, and it could be as late as sometime in the first half of next week's game in Madison, WI, against the Wisconsin Badgers (1-0, after a 51-17 win over UNLV on Thursday night) before it's determined how Oregon St. will proceed.
Manion, above, finished with 8 completions on 12 attempts, for 143 yards, plus a 13 yard keeper that set up the Beavers' first touchdown.
A number of the newcomers actually played well in what will long be remembered as a disastrous day, one in which Oregon St. lost its home opener for the first time in a decade, and the Beavers suffered their first loss to a Division IA now FCS opponent since dropping a 35-14 decision to Montana on Sept. 7, 1996, to another Big Sky opponent, Montana, a year before the beginning of Riley's first stint as coach in Corvallis.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Scott Crichton started and had a sack and two tackles for loss. Wynn was also impressive, and played extensively, recording 2 tackles, one for a loss, as well as his fumble recovery.
MLB Feti Unga was OSU's leading tackler in the game, with 8, and both Poyer and OLB Michael Doctor were close behind, with 7 tackles. Masaniai had the other sack besides Crichton's that the Beaver defense recorded.
Health wise, there were no further major injuries. Michael Lamb, the backup at both offensive guard positions, missed the second half after sustaining a stinger to his right shoulder on special teams, but Riley said he should be back next week.
Reynolds never returned after suffering cramps, but suffered no lasting damage. Both RT Colin Kelly and LG Josh Andrews missed short portions of the game, including one key field goal, with cramps, but both finished the game.
The offensive game plan was rather vanilla, but after Katz proved ineffective, and Agnew was anything but, with Manion and many others playing their first game, that was to be expected. The usual criticism of offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf's play calling will have to be deferred a while.
The defense clearly suffered from inexperience, which manifested itself in coverage problems typical of such situations, and also some pass interference penalties. The first one was simply atrocious, but the rest were valid.
One, on Poyer, was nothing but a combination of bad luck and inexperience, where a pass was so badly underthrown that Poyer couldn't locate the ball, and ran into the Hornet receiver, on a play most veteran corners, such as James Dockery, who survived the final cut by the Cleveland Browns, or the injured Hardin, would have turned into an easy interception.
It was also Poyer who, despite making contact with Reed on the game deciding final play, fell and allowed Reed to become a legend in Sacramento St. history. This on a play where above all else, a receiver CAN NOT BE ALLOWED TO GET LOOSE IN THE END ZONE. Where taking a penalty if necessary is required in order to take out a receiver. (Reminiscent of an ineffective pass interference penalty that led to a loss in Utah the last time the Beavers were there.)
Oregon St. will have a lot of regrouping to do before they leave Friday for their 9 AM local time kickoff against the Badgers, who did nothing in their rout of UNLV to dispel predictions that they should be a favorite to return to the Rose Bowl, which they reached last season.
The Beavers have now lost 6 of their last 8 games, and 10 of 15.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge.)