CORVALLIS — A 46-yard field-goal attempt from a kicker whose name was not even on Portland State’s numerical roster hooked wide right, and Oregon State’s players began to celebrate.
The Beavers avoided the level of disaster still reserved for the likes of Sacramento State and Eastern Washington, two lower-division foes that pulled early-season upsets against the Beavers in the past decade. They squeaked past Portland State 35-32 in Saturday afternoon’s home opener at Reser Stadium to clinch their first victory of 2017.
A win is a win, OSU coach Gary Andersen stressed.
"Our ability to be able to shoot ourselves in the foot at times in those situations in critical moments is still very, very mind-boggling," Andersen said. "It needs to go away, but we overcame it today."
The Beavers (1-1) escaped thanks to a two-minute drive executed after Portland State receiver/quarterback Josh Kraght leapt into the end zone for the go-ahead 1-yard score with 2:43 to play. OSU drove 77 yards on seven plays in 1:09, with Jake Luton firing a 17-yard strike to the outstretched arms of true freshman Isaiah Hodgins near the right pylon to give the Beavers a three-point advantage with just more than a minute to play.
"We had a pretty good idea what the corner was going to do when we ran that route," Luton said. "Isaiah ran a great route, and we hit him."
But the Beavers defense still allowed holes against the run and open space against the pass.
Portland State racked up 515 yards — the second consecutive opponent to reach that total — including 291 on the ground. True freshman quarterback Jalani Eason, who missed much of the second half due to injury, accounted for 95 rushing yards and two scores, and hit Kraght for 42- and 37-yard touchdowns through the air. After Hodgins’ late touchdown, the Vikings drove 53 yards in nine plays to get in position to attempt the game-tying field goal.
"The thing that I’m surprised (about) is we’re not where we need to be from a fundamental standpoint at times and the tackling ability," Andersen said. "I just think these kids are a lot better. I know they’re a lot better. We just have to be able to continually work with them."
Offensively, the Beavers’ rushing attack again struggled to establish rhythm, with Ryan Nall compiling 59 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. The Vikings, like Colorado State the week prior, stacked the box and forced Luton to throw, with underneath catch-and-run routes more available than over-the-top threats.
Backup signal-caller Darell Garretson was even introduced in special packages, picking up 29 rushing yards — including a 4-yard score in the second quarter — but fumbling inside his team’s 20 to set up an Eason 12-yard touchdown that gave Portland State a 20-14 advantage midway through the third quarter.
"(Opponents are) going to try to do different things to make sure that we don’t run on them, but that shouldn’t change for us," Nall said. "We should be able to buckle down and kind of just go ‘mono e mono’ from there and make one guy miss."
Ultimately, Portland State botched a golden first-half opportunity when a fourth-and-goal pass by Eason fell incomplete, which OSU parlayed into a 98-yard touchdown drive capped by Garretson’s score to take a 14-6 lead at the half. The Vikings also missed two extra points and failed on two 2-point conversion attempts in a 3-point ballgame.
As OSU orchestrated its game-winning drive, Beavers defensive back Dwayne Williams put his head down because "I knew they would get (the touchdown), but I couldn’t watch it." When Graycen Kennedy — that’s the name of the mystery redshirt freshman kicker — lined up and misfired, several players took off sprinting with their hands in the air.
Andersen noted in the aftermath that he was more happy than relieved with the outcome.
A win’s a win, after all.
"You can’t just keep doing the same thing and expect, all of a sudden, the results are going to magically change," Andersen said. "We know after two games where we’re at from a personnel standpoint. We know what we have to be able to address.
"We’ll just keep on grinding, keep on working through the process with this team. And I’m excited to work through this process. Let me state that."