The highest highs. The lowest of lows. And just about everything in between. Oregon State never trailed in this game, but it sure as hell didn’t feel like it once it was finally over.
For 3 ½ hours in the Tucson desert on Saturday, Oregon State and Arizona staged an instant classic. There was heartbreak, as seen in the profile of James Rodgers, injured anew, on the Beaver sideline. There was also magnificence, as defined by the performance of Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz.
THE BEAVS’ OPENING drive featured Katz converting two key third downs, a harbinger of things to come. And when James Rodgers broke out of the late afternoon shadows and into the sunlight of the end zone to gather in a Katz deep ball, it felt like the beginning of something special for the senior wide receiver.
Indeed, Quon was returning to the field for the first time since a concussion against Boise State. And he was on fire early against Arizona.
Rodgers had two early touchdown receptions on Saturday called back due to penalty. And yet he still blew by the century mark (102) in receiving yards -- in the first half.
But that last grab, the last touchdown that was called back, it turned what looked like a beginning into an ending.
Tackled into the end zone, Rodgers left leg stuck in the turf, and something gave. Quon was unable to put any weight on the leg at all, eventually returning to the sideline on crutches.
No official word was issued during the game on the injury itself or the severity, whether it was an ACL or something else was unknown. But based on replays and that the leg could bear no weight, sadly, it won’t be a shock if the injury turns out to be season-, and perhaps even OSU career- ending. (Still, a potential medical redshirt could be in play, if the injury was as bad as it looked. Stay tuned.)
KATZ AND THE Beaver offense, faced with the loss of one of their brightest stars and leaders in the first half against the No. 9 team in the land, did not buckle.
Katz was nearly flawless on the night. A throw back across his body, all arm, traveled more than 50 yards into the air to Markus Wheaton, who skipped the last few yards into the end zone for a 17-7 Beaver lead. There are precious few quarterbacks who can make that throw.
THE BEAVER DEFENSE bent plenty on the night. Arizona’s short passing game absolutely scorched OSU – tallying nearly 450 passing yards.
But the Beaver D stepped up at the most critical of moments -- A saving shoelace tackle by James Dockery here, a juggling pick by Suaesi Tuimaunei in the end zone there..
And for all of Arizona’s yards – they racked up a total of 541 of them – the Wildcats could muster only 27 points, with their final touchdown coming with two minutes left.
ON THE OTHER side of the ball, Arizona’s gameplan focused on stuffing the box, trying to take away the Beavers’ running game and daring Katz to beat them. Arizona did a nice job of it. Katz did a better job.
Katz was 30-42 passing, for 393 yards and two touchdowns. He scored another TD on a 1-yard run. His one interception was a big one, with the Beavs threatening to score. It was one of maybe two bad decisions on the night. But by that point and with everything working so well, Katz was probably astonished to find he couldn’t throw a pass through two Arizona defenders.
Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for “only” 83 yards against Arizona. But he got stronger as the night went on. And so did the OSU o-line, and they started to create a little more daylight for Quizz to run through in the second half.
But Oregon State’s offensive line did a sterling job of pass protection all night long. And when time did run out, Katz still made plays. For the game, Oregon State converted 10-of-15 third downs.
ARIZONA CLOSED TO 23-20 entering the final quarter. But the game’s defining drive started at 10:37 at the OSU 20-yard line.
Katz hit Markus Wheaton for 16 yards, and then followed up with a strike to Joe Halahuni, who broke free for 43 yards. On third and four, Katz escaped the pass rush and picked up seven. Later, Katz found the end zone when he made his fourth, yes fourth, third down conversion with his feet.
BUT THIS IS Oregon State vs. Arizona. It’s never over.
Justin Kahut shanked his second extra point on the night and OSU led 29-20, with 5:46 left. But the Beavs stopped Arizona again on downs. Now there was 4:47 left and OSU held a nine-point lead -- and had the ball. And now it really should have been over. But of course, it wasn’t.
Arizona held and then marched into the end zone, covering 79 yards in 1:54 against a completely gassed OSU defense. And then there was Arizona’s on-side kick attempt -- rolling free, just waiting for someone, anyone, to grab it and the game itself.
Jordan Jenkins got it for the Beavs. An illegal block would have negated the play had Arizona recovered it anyway, but that image of the pigskin slowly rolling around captured perfectly the tenuous nature of this game, and how easily it could be won or lost.
MERCIFULLY, FOR A Beaver Nation with jangled nerves, OSU then effectively ran out the clock, claiming a 29-27 win on the road over No. 9 Arizona. The victory will certainly propel the Beavs back into the Top 25 rankings.
It’s a huge win, a monster victory to celebrate – and for many reasons. And if only the upcoming news could come back in a positive way on James Rodgers, well, then this Saturday night in the desert would be just about perfect.