PULLMAN — On third-and-goal from the 1-yard line with less than six minutes left, Washington State unveiled a formation that might have been lifted from the opposing playbook.
Tight splits. An offensive lineman posing as a tight end.
Jayden de Laura bootlegged to the wide side of the field and threw toward running back Deon McIntosh. Nobody was near him. Touchdown.
One play doesn’t necessarily solve the Cougars’ season-long goal-line follies, but it gave them a thrilling upset victory. De Laura passed for 399 yards and safety George Hicks III later stopped Oregon State a yard shy of a critical first down Saturday as the Cougs gutted out a woolly 31-24 Pac-12 win at Gesa Field.
So a team that’s been relying on clever defense got a boost by showing more smarts on offense.
The verdict quashed a Beavers surge that had vaulted them to the top of the Pac-12 North standings, and it extended a Cougar bounce-back that had begun with a win at California the previous week.
“This team deserves so much credit for what they’ve been through — and keep grinding,” WSU coach Nick Rolovich said. “A lot of people told them they were a good team before the season. I told them this is a game where you get a chance to beat a good team and earn that description.”
The Cougs still are prone to red-zone willies, this time resulting in back-to-back trips to the 7- and 4- yard lines that yielded no points. The first of those second-quarter drives ended on a fourth-and-3 incompletion, then a diving interception by Hicks went to waste when OSU linebacker Omar Speights picked off de Laura in the end zone.
But those were overshadowed by the deceptive goal-line play that won the game. It was a brief identity shift that evoked Oregon State’s penchant for tight ends and power running. The Beaver defense looked confused.
“I think we started last week with a little bit of — whether it’s eye candy or different looks,” said Rolovich, the second-year coach who brought a run-and-shoot offense to Pullman from Hawaii. “I think we were stale. We felt like (the players) were still learning the offense. But (we’re) doing a little bit more to give our guys a chance.”
The Cougars beat OSU for the eighth consecutive time, repeating a win last year in Corvallis, Ore., in Rolovich’s Wazzu debut.
The game began as a defensive battle but the teams combined for three gains of 50-plus yards in a three-minute span midway through the second half.
They included catch-and-runs of 55 and 58 yards by WSU receivers Joey Hobert and Travell Harris as the Cougars (3-3, 2-2) rediscovered the big-play panache that had abandoned them the past few games. Harris’ catch set up a 14-yard scoring reception by Lincoln Victor.
“We came in at halftime and told each other, ‘You know what? We’re going down the field,’” de Laura said. “We’re just not punching it in. So when we get a chance to, we’ve got to punch stuff in. We did in the second half, and also we had big plays that helped us score.”
After McIntosh’s go-ahead touchdown, the Beavers drove to the Cougar 14-yard line before Ron Stone Jr. sacked Chase Nolan for an 8-yard loss. On fourth-and-19, Trey Lowe caught a safety-valve pass and snaked to the 4 before Hicks made the game-saving tackle with 33 seconds left.
Another student-laden crowd of 24,157 — this time on homecoming — verbally outpunched its weight to affect the Beavers’ late offensive efficiency. All spectators were required to show proof of coronavirus vaccination or a recent negative test.
Oregon State (4-2, 2-1) continued to pile up prodigious rushing numbers, gaining steam in the second half to finish with 309 yards on the ground, including 145 by B.J. Baylor and 127 by Deshaun Fenwick.
But the Cougars countered with a dialed-in de Laura, who threw 32-for-46 for three touchdowns against one interception.
“I thought he played tremendous,” Rolovich said.
Harris made eight receptions for 147 yards, and Calvin Jackson Jr. added nine for 70. On the ground, McIntosh gained 65 yards and Max Borghi 33.
Among the second-half highlights was a diving interception by WSU edge rusher Brennan Jackson, ending an OSU scoring threat on the 5.
Oregon St. 0 10 7 7 — 24Washington St. 0 3 14 14 — 31
OSU: Colletto 2 run (E.Hayes kick), 14:57.
WSU: FG Janikowski 30, 8:53.
OSU: FG E.Hayes 39, 5:55.
WSU: Borghi 3 run (Janikowski kick), 8:40.
WSU: Hobert 55 pass from de Laura (Janikowski kick), :48.
OSU: Fenwick 15 run (E.Hayes kick), :04.
WSU: Victor 14 pass from de Laura (Janikowski kick), 13:41.
OSU: Fenwick 11 run (E.Hayes kick), 11:15.
WSU: McIntosh 1 pass from de Laura (Janikowski kick), 5:25.
First downs 26 23
Total Net Yards 467 491
Rushes-yards 45-309 24-92
Passing 158 399
Punt Returns 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns 2-33 0-0
Interceptions Ret. 1-4 2-0
Comp-Att-Int 11-26-2 32-46-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 1-8 1-4
Punts 0-0.0 2-42.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 2-15 4-54
Time of Possession 29:08 30:52
RUSHING: Oregon St., Baylor 18-145, Fenwick 15-127, Nolan 8-32, Bradford 1-5, Colletto 2-2, (Team) 1-(minus 2). Washington St., McIntosh 13-65, Borghi 9-33, (Team) 1-(minus 2), de Laura 1-(minus 4).
PASSING: Oregon St., Nolan 11-25-2-158, Loecher 0-1-0-0. Washington St., de Laura 32-46-1-399.
RECEIVING: Oregon St., Flemings 2-38, Lowe 2-36, Bradford 2-24, Harrison 2-19, Baylor 2-18, Musgrave 1-23. Washington St., Ca.Jackson 9-70, Harris 8-147, Victor 5-40, Stribling 3-37, Ollie 3-30, Hobert 2-58, McIntosh 2-17.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: None.
Grummert may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2290.
For more photos from Saturday's game, click on this link.