The Stanford faithful began to rise all at once. The longest active FBS-losing skid was in the process of being broken. Stout defensive play combined with an efficient passing attack gave the Cardinal a chance to win its first conference game in over a year. Questions surrounding the coaching staff and well-being of the program could be temporarily alleviated, at least for a week. Instead, within 10 seconds, both Stanford and Oregon State fans witnessed one of the greatest unravellings in recent college football history. OSU receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison caught an implausible touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining to defeat Stanford 28-27.
To start the game, Oregon State (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) had a long 11-play drive that featured seven runs. The drive eventually stalled at the 21-yard line after two incomplete passes by quarterback Ben Gulbranson. However, the Beavers were not rewarded for their efforts, as kicker Atticus Sappington missed from 40 yards to keep the game scoreless.
For the first time since the season opener against Colgate (1-4, 0-1 Patriot League), the Stanford (1-4, 0-4 Pac-12) offense got off to a fast start. Junior quarterback Tanner McKee led the Cardinal down the field with a methodical 12-play, 78-yard touchdown drive. Chunk plays from senior wide receiver Michael Wilson and tight end Ben Yurosek set up junior running back Casey Filkins for a one-yard rush into the endzone, handing the Cardinal a 7-0 lead.
“We started fast. The defense got a stop and you know, we went down and scored first,” said fifth year receiver Brycen Tremayne of Stanford’s fast start. “That’s what we were talking about all week, because the past [games], minus the Colgate game, we started [down] 0-7.”
After a miscue on the kickoff, the Beavers started their next offensive drive on their own 1-yard line. Like its previous drive, Oregon State heavily utilized the run game to make its way across the field. However, they also used their intermediate passing game to convert two 3rd-and-9 situations to remain on the field. The Beavers capped off their 16-play drive with a one-yard run from quarterback Jack Colletto to knot the game at seven apiece.
Stanford quickly retook the lead, getting into field goal range thanks to both a pass interference and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on Oregon State defensive back Alex Austin. Junior kicker Joshua Karty knocked through a 47-yarder to put the Cardinal ahead 10-7.
Towards the middle of the second quarter, Stanford’s defense began to tighten up, forcing the Beavers to punt two consecutive possessions.
“By and large I thought we played well,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw of his defense. “Like I said, so many things to build on, TFLs [tackles for loss], quarterback pressures and sacks, pass deflections.”
Feeding off the defense’s momentum, Stanford’s offense put up a seven play, 61-yard touchdown drive with 58 seconds remaining in the half. Tremayne caught a back shoulder fade near the front pylon to extend the Cardinal’s lead to 10. Stanford held a 17-7 advantage heading into the break.
“I feel like me and Tanner have a special chemistry on the fade go ball,” Tremayne said. “I know exactly where he’s going to place it every time. He trusts me to go up and get it.”
The Beavers stopped the Cardinal on the opening drive of the half and proceeded to drive down the field themselves. A holding call aided the Cardinal in stalling the Beavers, and a 45-yard field goal attempt sailed wide. However, senior cornerback Salim Turner-Muhammad jumped offside, and Sappington took advantage of his second chance, making no mistake with the 40-yarder.
The Cardinal once again got their offense rolling toward the end of the third quarter. A four play drive, headlined by fifth year receiver Michael Wilson’s 28-yard catch and Tremayne’s 37-yard touchdown catch, extended the Cardinal’s lead to 24-10, which held till the end of the third quarter.
But the Beavers would not roll over easily. After being forced into a 4th-and-8 on Stanford’s 21-yard line, Gulbranson hit receiver Silas Bolden on a fade route in the front of the end zone. Oregon State would go for two points, but failed to convert, which left Stanford’s lead at eight points.
Both teams struggled to move the ball, combining for three straight punts, but that streak was snapped in a hurry when Beavers running back Damien Martinez broke a 43-yard run to the endzone. The two-point conversion failed once again, allowing the Cardinal to retain a 24-22 lead.
The Cardinal got the ball with 5:36 left in the game and were able to run down the clock to 58 seconds left before the Beavers saw it again, while tacking on another three points to grab a 27-22 lead.
Down five with 54 seconds left, the Beavers had to get a touchdown to have any chance of winning the game. Gulbranson completed passes of nine and 11 yards to place the ball at Oregon State’s own 44 yard line, but 27 seconds came off the clock in the process, The Beavers needed bigger plays to have a chance at the end zone.
On the third play of the drive, receiver Tre’shaun Harrison got an outside release on fifth-year cornerback Ethan Bonner. Harrison got a step on Bonner and Gulbranson rocketed a ball toward the senior receiver on the sideline. The ball was underthrown, but Harrison was able to contort his body and laid his hands over Bonner’s helmet to make the catch. Fifth year safety Patrick Fields was in position to make the tackle, but stopped in his tracks as soon as Harrison caught the ball. Harrison zoomed past Fields and ran into the end zone to give the Beavers their first lead on the night.
“We were playing two [high] man. We were in our dime package,” said senior safety Jonathan McGill. “[They] just threw a fade. We had some guys in position. They made a better play than we did in that specific situation.”
With 13 seconds remaining, the Cardinal had one last desperate attempt to score. However, McKee threw an interception on the first play of the drive, which effectively ended Stanford’s chances.
McKee finished 20-for-32 for 269 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Stanford rushed for 90 yards compared to 192 for Oregon State, with Filkins leading the way for Stanford with 62 yards.
While Shaw acknowledges this loss will be tough to recover from, an upcoming game at Notre Dame (3-2) will force the team to move on quickly.
“It’s going to be a rough 24 hours for all of us. We can’t afford to spend 24 hours on it,” Shaw said. “Short week, tough plane ride, tough place to play. We got to get ready.”
The Cardinal kickoff in South Bend, Ind. at 4:30 p.m. PT on Saturday as they seek to snap their 11-game FBS losing streak.