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2000: Vs. Washington

Nov 5, 2020

This fall marks the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest football seasons in Oregon State history. The 2000 Beavers tied for the Pacific 10 conference championship and defeated Notre Dame in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, finishing with an 11-1 record and ranked in the top five in the country. That OSU team is among the 2020 inductees into the Oregon State Sports Hall of Fame, and is recapping that season with a series of stories this fall.
By Kip Carlson
As Oregon State – team and fans alike - continued to celebrate beating No. 8 Southern California 31-21 well into the evening of September 30, 2000, the nation was beginning to take note of the football happenings in Corvallis.
"I said all week they're a dangerous team and they played with great energy," USC head coach Paul Hackett said after the game of the Beavers. "It was no surprise to me that they played like they did today. I really take my hat off to Coach Erickson and what he's accomplished."
The victory didn't just end a 26-game, 32-year losing streak to the Trojans; with the conquest, OSU notched a number of other milestones as well:

  • Oregon State was 4-0 for the first time since 1957.
  • It was OSU's first win over a top-10 team since beating No. 9 UCLA in 1978 in Corvallis.
  • Ken Simonton's 234-yard rushing game was a Reser Stadium record, topping the 233 by Marcus Allen of USC in 1981, and Simonton was named Pacific-10 Offensive Player of the Week.

"The team the Los Angeles Times ridiculed as 'Oregon Stinking State' last year may crash either the AP or ESPN Top 25 polls today," wrote Brooks Hatch of the Corvallis Gazette-Times in Sunday morning's paper. "Certainly they've raised eyebrows across the country by becoming the Kansas State of the West Coast, an accomplishment that maybe only the head coaches and players who fruitlessly flailed for so long and so hard to turn this thing around can only truly appreciate."
When the national polls were released Sunday afternoon, Oregon State was ranked No. 23 in both the Associated Press media poll and the ESPN/USA today coaches poll. That was another milestone, as it was the first time the Beavers had been ranked since the end of the 1968 season, when they were No. 15 in the AP poll and No. 13 in the United Press International coaches poll.
Oregon was also ranked nationally; it was the first time since November, 1964 that the Beavers and Ducks had been ranked the same week, and that season ended with the teams playing with a Rose Bowl berth on the line.
Also that Sunday, the Summer Olympics wrapped up in Sydney, Australia, where the national newspaper lamented, "The Sydney Games are in danger of being remembered as the Drugs Olympics." Rumors of performance-enhancing substance use and several disqualifications had marred the two-week event.
On Monday, the Daily Barometer published an editorial headlined "OSU's athletic improvements evident on and off the field." The piece ran through a list of accomplishments including the start of the new indoor practice facility and softball stadium, cutting the athletic department debt, and work toward building a Gill Coliseum annex and expanding Reser Stadium.
The editorial also listed the accomplishments of a variety of Beaver teams before concluding, "The excitement building around OSU athletics was evident when fans stormed the field after sending the Trojans home with an opossum's tail between their legs. If things go as planned, a win over a top-10 team will be expected, not exulted."
That same day's Gazette-Times noted campaign finance reports showed the overall amount spent on races for the White House and Congress had topped $2 billion by Labor Day; the first debate between presidential contenders George W. Bush and Al Gore would take place that week. Observed Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College: "We have lost all meaningful barriers to the flow of money in elections."
OSU would have an addition to its own flow of money later in the month, as it was announced the Beavers' October 14 home game against Stanford would be televised nationally on FSN, worth an estimated $230,000 to Oregon State.
First, though there was the matter of the next game: a trip to Seattle to play No. 13 Washington.
Visiting UW meant getting ready for the noise of 70,000-plus fans at Husky Stadium, which prompted one last look back to the USC win and the decibels generated by OSU fans.
"I thought it was unbelievable as far as the enthusiasm and the noise level and all the things we had asked for during that game," OSU head coach Dennis Erickson told the Tuesday media luncheon. "But particularly the students, because that's what it's all about at a university."
The weekly gathering also yielded two other updates on artifacts from the win over Southern California, as reported by Bob Rodman in the Eugene Register-Guard:
First, the game ball used on the final play had been carried off the field by quarterback Jonathan Smith; he handed it to OSU sports information director Hal Cowan, who had been on the athletic staff since 1976. Said Cowan with a smile, "Jonathan said that I deserved it more than he did."
Second, the possum that darted 100 yards from end zone to end zone in the second quarter had been taken from Reser Stadium by facility staff and released west of Corvallis near a creek – "a habitat considerably more comfortable for it than the artificial turf and a roaring crowd of more  than 33,000," Rodman wrote.
Reporters asked Erickson about returning to the city where he'd coached the Seattle Seahawks from 1995-98 and just a few miles from where he'd grown up in Everett, Wash. Insisted Erickson: "It's not that big of a deal."
Among the national outlets taking note of the Beavers was USA Today, which spotlighted Simonton on Wednesday; the Beaver back was now leading both the Pac-10 and the nation in rushing at 177.25 yards per game and scoring at 15 points per game. The newspaper talked to San Diego State defensive coordinator Ken Delgado about Simonton; after extolling his attributes, Delgado finished with, "In addition to having those natural tools, he plays with fire and toughness. That is an intangible you have to have to be the main man. He wears that well."
The "nation's newspaper" had more to say on the Beavers, as its college football notebook led off with OSU and Oregon both being ranked and looked ahead to what the stakes might be if they stayed hot until the season-ending Civil War. Said Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington in the story: "That game means a year of humility for the loser and a year of bragging rights for the winner. If we're both ranked then, it's going to be crazy."
The Beavers' strength and stamina – and the man who played a big part in developing it – got a look as The Oregonian's Rachel Bachman profiled strength and conditioning coach Trent Greener. OSU tight end Marty Maurer recalled the conclusion of the comeback win at New Mexico and told Bachman, "After the game, I said, 'Hey, thank you, Trent. I hated what you did to me this summer, but at the end of the game they were sucking wind and we were standing in the huddle just talking."
Oregon State's special teams also drew some attention, as the Register-Guard's Rodman paid homage to Beavers such as Tim Murdick, Erik Tuma, Noah Happe, Terrell Roberts, Eric Mobley and Greg Brown-Davis. In the story, OSU special teams coach Jim Michalczik said, "We have a lot of guys who are not the big names but they have big hearts. They sure have my respect for their efforts. They have recognized that you can win a game offensively and defensively, and still lose it."
On Thursday, the State Theater in Corvallis closed for good; executives of the Regal Cinemas chain would gave no reason for shutting down the venue where you could still see a movie for $2.50. The finale of its 61-year run in downtown Corvallis was the film Gone in 60 Seconds. 
By then, Washington had been installed as a 10-point favorite over Oregon State. The Huskies had to have a win to stay in the Rose Bowl race, having lost at Oregon 23-16 the previous week to drop from No. 6 in the national rankings.
OSU's defense, ranked sixth in the country with teams only averaging 235.25 yards per game against the Beavers, would be matched against Washington's Marques Tuiasosopo. An excellent option quarterback, Tuiasosopo was averaging 45 yards per game rushing and had run for three touchdowns on the season, thrown for four more and passed for 875 yards.
"He's one of the greatest competitors I've ever seen play the game," Erickson said.
As had been the case the week before, history wasn't on the Beavers' side: OSU had lost 12 straight to Washington and 22 of the previous 23 meetings. The last two losses had been at opposite ends of the spectrum: 1999's 47-21 debacle in Corvallis and 1998's 35-34 heartbreaker in Seattle, when Oregon State's two-point conversion try with no time on the clock was batted aside.
Previewing the game, Register-Guard columnist Ron Bellamy checked off a list of the Beavers' recent achievements, then added, "Won a tough game against a favored and mighty power, in one of the most hostile venues anywhere? Well, that's still one of the blank squares."
The Beavers got their chance to fill it in on a clear, 65-degree night in front of 73,145 fans that delivered the promised homefield advantage.
Oregon State wasted little time showing it belonged. On the Beavers' second possession, a 29-yard pass from Smith to T.J. Houshmandzadeh moved the ball to the Washington 35. After a loss of three on first down, Smith faked to Simonton, rolled left and found Robert Prescott open downfield for 48 yards and a 7-0 lead.
"I thought we came out early and made some plays and that really boosted our confidence," said Smith, who was back at the site of his school-record 469-yards-passing game of 1998.
Tuiasosopo then lived up to his billing, capping an 85-yard drive with a 16-yard pass to Justin Robbins to tie the game 7-7. Late in the first quarter, Patrick McCall put Oregon State back in front 14-7 with a 43-yard burst; Washington evened it at 14-14 on Rich Alexis' one-yard run with 11:27 to go in the second quarter.
The Huskies took their first lead later in the period on John Anderson's 27-yard field goal. Inside the final minute of the half, Tuiasosopo scrambled for 18 yards to keep a UW drive alive and Anderson hit a 23-yard field goal as time expired for a 20-14 halftime advantage.
By the break, Washington had rolled up 341 yards total offense to Oregon State's 192 but OSU was finding ways to stay in the game. The Beavers went back in front 21-20 with the only score of the third quarter, an 11-yard scoring pass from Smith to Houshmandzadeh.
Then things got interesting.
Another one-yard scoring run by Alexis gave Washington a 26-21 lead early in the fourth quarter and the Huskies went for two. They fumbled on the play, though, and Keith Heyward-Johnson scooped up the ball and took it the length of the field for two Beaver points to get within 26-23.
Washington increased its advantage to 33-23 with 8:23 to go as Tuiasosopo reached the ball over the goal line to complete a four-yard run. The roaring Husky Stadium crowd sensed their team was on the verge of a knockout.
About a minute later, the Beavers were off the ropes. Smith – stepping out of a shoe in the process – found Chad Johnson behind the Husky defensive back Anthony Vontoure for an 80-yard touchdown pass and it was 33-30 with 7:22 left in the game.
"We almost had him sacked," Washington head coach Rick Neuheisel said of the play. "I'll bet Anthony peeked into the backfield. You get away with it a lot of times, but that's the one time you don't."
Oregon State's defense now had to find a way to stop a Washington offense that had moved the ball most of the night, and it did. The Beavers forced a punt and got the ball back at their own 15 with 5:34 remaining.
Simonton and McCall carried the load on a drive that took the ball to the Washington 34 with 52 seconds left. Smith passed to Houshmandzadeh for nine yards to the 25 to set up a second-and-one and the Beavers took their final timeout.
Simonton's carry on the next play was stopped for a three-yard loss at the 28.
"We were going to get the first down and then kill it, which would give us two shots at throwing the ball down the field," Erickson said. "That's what our plan was."
Instead, it was third-and-four. Out of timeouts and with the clock ticking down inside 20 seconds, Smith had to spike the ball. That brought out Ryan Cesca to try a 46-yard field goal – five yards more than the longest successful try of his OSU career thus far.
The snap, the hold, the kick – and the ball sailed just outside the right upright with 14 seconds left.
"I thought we should have done things better at the end," Smith said. "We put Ryan in an awful spot. We should have gotten a better play off on third down."
Added Simonton: "Cesca is a gutsy player. He's going to win games for us. He just missed."
Washington took a knee and left the field with its 33-30 victory. OSU, playing a ranked team on the road in a tough venue, tasted its first loss of the season in a fight that came down to the final few plays.
"I learned that we had a chance to fold and didn't," Erickson said. "We came back. But we have to win games on the road. Moral victories don't get you to a bowl game."
Washington finished with 504 total yards, Oregon State with 474. The Huskies had a 281-160 edge in rushing, the Beavers a 314-223 advantage in passing. Save for the fumbled two-point conversion try, there were no turnovers.
"It was obviously an offensive game, just the opposite of what I thought going in," Erickson said. "Washington was able to run the ball and throw the play-action pass. That was the difference in the game. This was the best we played offensively and the worst defensively."
Tuiasosopo had completed 20 of 32 passes for 223 yards, Alexis had run for 107 yards and Paul Arnold for 102 and caught seven passes for 65 yards for Washington.
For the Beavers, Simonton notched his 17th 100-yard game, going for 104 yards. Smith completed 13 of 24 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Houshmandzadeh had five catches for 62 yards, Prescott three for 101 and Johnson two for 116 as the Beavers averaged a shade over 24 yards per completion.
In defeat, the Beavers left the Register-Guard's Bellamy impressed.
"They were a scrappy, feisty, no-quit team," Bellamy wrote in the Sunday paper. "They won't play in a tougher place again in the Pac-10 race, and it would be a mistake to think they can't be a factor."
But the Beavers had been so, so close to a second straight huge win this night in Seattle.
"There's a lot of should haves-and could-haves in there right now," Simonton said of OSU's postgame locker room.
Said Smith: "We feel that we're a legitimate Rose Bowl contender. And any time you lose, it's a disappointment."