Beavers keep Pack’s infamous 52-year-old streak going
RENO – Nevada was so tired of hearing – “Did you know that you haven’t beaten a Pac-10 football team in 52 years?” – the Pack invited longstanding Pac-10 cellar dweller Oregon State to Reno to end all of the nonsense.
Through three quarters the half-century-old streak looked every bit like cannon fodder as Nevada led 13-7. But Oregon State scored 21 unanswered points during the final 15 minutes to reintroduce new coach Dennis Erickson to college football with a 28-13 season-opening victory.
“Everybody talks about how long it’s been. You know, we haven’t played a ton of them. But we take each football game, whether it’s the WAC, Mountain West of Pac-10 or Big West, they’re all important to us,” said Nevada coach Jeff Tisdel.
One simple pass play changed the complexion of the defensive struggle. Bootlegging right, Oregon State quarterback Jonathan Smith flipped an innocent-looking, short pass to tight end Martin Maurer on the sideline. Maurer slipped one tackle and tightroped the sideline, chugging 74 yards with the game-tying score.
“It was unexpected on the play that was called,” said Maurer, who left the game with a sprained knee ligament on the following series. “We were just trying to get a first down, move the chains a bit and get in a rhythm, and I turned out there, and all of sudden no one was there. It probably took a long time, but T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) ran down and got one of their speed guys with a block, so it helped out.”
Erickson was also pleasantly surprised at the play that changed the outcome.
“I thought he was going to get knocked out of bounds after an eight-yard gain, then all of a sudden he made the turn and kept going. I was looking for the defense and nobody was showing,” Erickson said.
Freshman kicker Ryan Ceska tacked on the extra point, giving the Beavers their first lead, 14-13, with 14 minutes, 1 second to go.
The game-turning play followed a booming 68-yard punt by Norm Brady, which bailed the Pack out of poor field position at their 9.
From there, 5-7 sophomore tailback Ken Simonton and the Oregon State defense took over.
Simonton, following the fifth 1,000-yard rushing season in Oregon State history he produced a season ago, juked and slashed through the Pack for 199 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries.
“Without a doubt, he’s the best back we’ll see all year. As well as we played defensively at times and as much as our defense was on the field, we still can’t allow that many rushing yards,” Tisdel said.
The workhorse back helped wear down a game Pack defense with 68 fourth-quarter rushing yards, including touchdown runs of 19 and 1 yards.
“The guy has to be a key for us. Before the season even started I said, ‘If he gains 1,000 yards we’ll have success; if doesn’t, we’ll have problems,” Erickson said.
Erickson, who coached the Seattle Seahawks the past four years, joked that he would have tried an onside kick in the closing seconds if he had known Simonton needed only one more yard to reach 200.
“Thats the kind of runner I am. I scrap and I pick and we bust big ones here and there. That’s the kind of game I like. It makes the defense tired,” Simonton said.
Nevada’s talented sophomore quarterback, David Neill, struggled in crunch time, completing only two of his first nine passes for -3 yards to open the fourth quarter. Pressure from the perimeter of Oregon State’s defense and several timely blitzes kept Neill off his game.
“We were kind of asleep for two and a half quarters,” Erickson said. “We were much more active in the second half, and that’s probably (because) of the uncertainty of what was going to happen. And that’s how it is, particularly with a new coach and not a lot of guys back. Whereas Reno had all of those guys coming back offensively and you know what you’ve done and what you can do. Eventually they got the feel for that in the middle of the third quarter.”
All America wide receiver candidate Trevor Insley and running back Chris Lemon kept the Pack defense off the field for long stretches through three quarters. Insley caught 12 balls for 175 yards and Lemon rushed for 97 yards on 21 touches.
Each team was stuck between the 30-yard markers throughout the first half. But midway through the second quarter, Neill directed an 11-play, 58-yard drive, culminating in Cleavon Brooks’ 3-yard TD reception on third down.
Nevada might have pitched a first-half shutout if not for a silly roughing-the-punter penalty on fourth and 20. The Beavers pounced on the mistake, scoring four plays later on Simonton’s 5-yard run.
The Pack came right back with a field goal on the strength of two long passes. Neil’s 31-yard strike to Brooks and a 40-yard pass play to Insley set up Mike Phillips’ 21-yard field goal with :28 left in the half. Phillips added a 44-yard field goal with 1:39 remaining in the third quarter to make the score 13-7 Nevada.
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After more than 70 years of operating with a term deemed derogatory by many Native Americans, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has changed its name to Palisades Tahoe.