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2000: The Win Over UCLA

Nov 19, 2020

By Kip Carlson
Oregon State students on their way to class the morning of October 16, 2000, may have picked up a copy of the Daily Barometer from one of the kiosks around campus; at the top of page 1 was a story headlined, "Rev. Jackson to make unexpected visit." The night before, it had been confirmed Rev. Jesse Jackson would speak in the Memorial Union that night as the presidential campaign between George W. Bush and Al Gore continued.
Flip the newspaper over, and on the back page was the story of OSU's 38-6 win over Stanford two days earlier. The Beavers had finally put together a complete game to rout the defending Pacific-10 champion at sold-out Reser Stadium and make it a happy Dad's Weekend at Oregon State.
"I thought that is probably as well as we played as a team both offensively and defensively this year," OSU head coach Dennis Erickson told reporters after the game. "When that happens, you end up with a game like this."
A few days later, Erickson allowed that when the win was assured, he let himself soak up the festive atmosphere.
"It was fun to see, sitting on the sideline with things well in hand, looking at all that orange and all those people up there," Erickson said. "I turned to one of our seniors, Keith Heyward-Johnson, and asked him, 'When you first came here, did you ever think you'd see something like this?'
"And he said, 'No.'"
In his Monday morning column, Kevin Hampton of the Corvallis Gazette-Times ran through a list of potential miscues that could have gone against Oregon State and how, in years past, those moments would have bitten the Beavers. This time, though, Hampton surmised, "The Beavers not only made big plays, but got the breaks reserved for The Good Teams … No, there would be no 'what-ifs' in this game."
The convincing win improved the Beavers to 5-1 on the season and 2-1 in the Pac-10. In the national polls, they rose to No. 18 in the ESPN / USA Today coaches poll and No. 19 in the Associated Press media poll.
The next Saturday promised a tougher test than the Cardinal: a visit to No. 23 UCLA, which came into the game 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the conference. Already that fall the Bruins had beaten both Alabama and Michigan at the Rose Bowl when each was No. 3 in the nation; they'd also knocked off Fresno State and Arizona State at home.
"UCLA is a great team," Erickson said. "You don't beat Alabama and Michigan without being very good. They slipped against California and we know we will be running into a buzzsaw going down there."
UCLA figured to come in with two motivational memories. First, there was the previous season's meeting in Corvallis in which the Beavers demolished the Bruins 55-7; second, UCLA was coming off a triple-overtime 46-38 loss at California the previous week.
"I'm sure UCLA is going to be looking for some revenge, but we can't think about that," OSU linebacker Richard Seigler said. "We have to go in there and do our job, play Beaver-style football, and that will make us bowl-eligible.
"Right now we're playing some pretty good ball, so they're going to have to bring their 'A' game to beat us."
The Bruins would likely be without standout tailback DeShawn Foster, who had missed two games with a broken hand before playing sparingly against Cal. On the Oregon State side, center Chris Gibson had sprained an ankle against Stanford but was expected to play; running back Ken Simonton had "tweaked a leg muscle," as the Eugene Register-Guard put it, but quoted Erickson as saying he was "just fine."
Simonton continued to lead the Pac-10 in rushing and was now ranked fourth nationally at 149 yards per game, was eighth in scoring nationally with 11 points per game and 18th in all-purpose yardage at 148.33 per game.
After being leaned on heavily early in the season, Simonton was getting some backfield help. He was still shouldering the bulk of the load, rushing for 419 yards in OSU's last three games, but McCall had run for 153 and Battle 31 in that time. As a team, the Beavers were second in rushing in the Pac-10 at 182 yards per game.
During that three-game span, Jonathan Smith had passed for 785 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 21 yards per completion and throwing scoring passes of 97, 80, 76 and 40 yards.
"It's different than a year ago, when we threw to open up the running game," OSU offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said. "Right now we're running the ball to open up the passing game. It's creating big plays … we're a lot better play-action pass team than we were a year ago, and the offensive line has done an outstanding job. Those guys are playing really well."
Chad Johnson, the wide receiver who transferred in at the start of the season with just one year of eligibility remaining, was a big reason for the air explosion. Through six games he had just 11 catches, but he was averaging nearly 31 yards per reception and had a team-high four touchdown catches.
Tuesday night, Bush and Gore engaged in their third and final debate in St. Louis; later in the week, Oregon's county election offices would begin sending out ballots for the nation's first all-vote-by-mail general election. Jackson hadn't appeared in the MU on Monday night; he had joined ongoing negotiations to settle a Los Angeles transit workers strike and that had prevented him from making the trip to Corvallis.
While Jackson couldn't leave Los Angeles for Oregon State, the Beavers were hoping their weekend trip would be just the first of two to Pasadena during the season.
"I've been itching to get in there," Simonton said. "It's one of those tradition things. You can't wait until you get your turn. But a second shot at it, that's what we're playing for. We want to go out there, get used to it, and hopefully we'll be back."
For Smith, who grew up in nearby Glendora, it would be a homecoming of sorts.
"Pasadena is where I was born," Smith said. "I went to a church my whole life right in Pasadena, and I've been to five Rose Bowl games. But I've never played in the Rose Bowl, never been on the grass.
"There'll be quite a few people I know at the game, so it's kind of a home field for me. It'll be great to see a lot of family, play in a big stadium, and it's obviously a road game in the conference, which is always exciting and a challenge."
One Beaver who had been on that grass before had done it on a New Year's Day – on the sideline, at least. McCall had played for Michigan in 1997 and was on the sidelines for the Wolverines' win over Washington State in the 1998 Rose Bowl.
The game would not be televised in Oregon but would be available via satellite on Direct TV. That telecast would be shown in the MU Lounge with seating available starting at 3 p.m. for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
"It is certainly an exciting time for Beaver fans and we would like to extend the opportunity, as it is available, for our fans to watch the game together," OSU athletic director Mitch Barnhart told the Barometer.
With UCLA's crosstown rival, Southern California, struggling since its loss to Oregon State, speculation arose that the Trojans might soon be rid of head coach Paul Hackett and come after Erickson in the offseason. Brooks Hatch of the Gazette-Times addressed that in a column, noting the previous departures of Corvallis icons Tommy Prothro and Mike Riley.
"If Erickson leaves," Hatch wrote, "then Godspeed and good luck. He's already done what he was hired to do. He's certainly given OSU plenty of bang for the buck. He's significantly raised the profile of what was once considered a dead-end job. He'll leave the OSU football program in far better shape than when he started.
"My guess is he'll stay.
"But I also picked UCLA over Cal."
Saturday morning, the Gazette-Times' front page carried a story headlined "Plan would make OSU one of top engineering schools." Pressed by the state's high-tech industry and Gov. John Kitzhaber, the state Board of Higher Education endorsed a plan to double the number of engineering graduates from Oregon universities and put Oregon State on a path to become one of the nation's top 25 engineering schools.
By now, the Bruins were listing Foster as questionable for duty because second-stringer Jermaine Lewis was out with an injury. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman was now ruled out for UCLA.
Perhaps also on its way out at UCLA were card stunts – those visual shows presented by placing large colored cards on each seat of a section, then having the cards shown in unison to present a picture to the rest of the stadium; it was a Bruin tradition dating back to 1921. The Los Angeles Times reported that student participation had dropped to such a degree that against Oregon State, the stunts would be done by an alumni section across the field from the students.
The Times also noted that Oregon State would be trying to defeat both Los Angeles schools in the same season for the first time.
On an overcast, 64-degree afternoon in front of a crowd of 48,293, the Beavers and Bruins did some early scoring – but it was just a warmup act for how they'd finish.
Oregon State went up 7-0 on Smith's 8-yard pass to Johnson in the first quarter, capping an 89-yard, 15-play drive. UCLA answered with Foster's two-yard run to make it 7-7 at the end of the opening period; Chris Griffith's 24-yard field goal in the final minute of the second quarter put the Bruins up 10-7 at the half.
Then it got interesting.
Smith, working on a streak of 156 consecutive passes without an interception, had a throw tipped and the deflection ended up in the hands of the Bruins' Matt Ball, who went 15 yards for a touchdown that extended UCLA's lead to 17-7.
"When we didn't turn the ball over we were able to move it, which was true the whole game," Smith said afterward. "We were trying to throw a quick screen out to Robert Prescott and the guy made a great play getting the tip on it. It was probably something maybe I should have turned down, because he was right in my face."
OSU struck back less than two minutes later with another big pass play that took a detour. Smith connected with tight end Marty Maurer but UCLA's Marques Anderson knocked the ball loose. This time, it found a Beaver as Prescott snatched it and went 50 yards for a touchdown to get Oregon State within 17-14.
Akili Harris' five-yard touchdown run pushed the Bruins' advantage to 24-14. The Beavers again answered, this time with a 13-yard pass from Smith to a slanting T.J. Houshmandzadeh to trim the deficit to 24-21 with 4:39 to go in the third quarter.
That's where the score stayed going into the fourth quarter. UCLA upped its advantage to double digits at 31-21 when Cory Paus found tight end Gabe Crecion for a 67-yard touchdown pass with 12:45 to play.
The Beavers, their dreams of a return trip to the Rose Bowl two-and-a-half months hence in trouble, responded.
Ryan Cesca booted a 32-yard field goal to make it 31-24. OSU's defense turned away the Bruins, and the Beavers evened the score 31-31 on Smith's four-yard touchdown pass to Maurer with 9:31 left.
Oregon State's defense continued to hold, Cesca added field goals of 31 and 44 yards, and OSU led 37-31 with 5:07 remaining.
That was still the score when the Beavers found themselves facing a third-and-17 from their own 8-yard line. Smith took the snap, dropped back to pass and was hit, jarring the ball loose; UCLA linebacker Marcus Reese recovered in the end zone for what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown.
But the Beavers were about to be on the receiving end of one of the most fortuitous penalties in their football history. An official's whistle had blown before the snap; Maurer had been flagged for an illegal procedure penalty, making the ball dead before the play started.
"I was so happy to see that flag," Maurer said. "That was a huge break for us."
"I was already standing on the sideline when I heard the call," Reese said. "I didn't see a flag or anything." UCLA head coach Bob Toledo said the proper call had been made, and offered, "The game didn't swing on just one play."
Perhaps, but it sure seemed to.
Now facing third-and-21, the Beavers gave the ball to Antonio Battle on a draw play and he rambled for 22 yards and a first down at the OSU 26. Two plays later, Oregon State had third-and-two from its 34 and gave the ball to McCall.
"We were thinking first down the whole time and the line did a great job blocking," McCall said. "I saw daylight and went ahead and hit it."
The counter play got not only the first down, but 66 yards and a touchdown that put Oregon State in front 44-31 with 1:52 to play.
"Later in the game we had to keep our heads up and keep grinding, keep our heart all the way through the fourth quarter and sure enough, good things happened," McCall said.
The Beavers weren't out of the woods yet. It took just four plays for UCLA to score, getting a touchdown on Paus' 18-yard pass to Jon Dubravic with 1:18 left in the game. The Bruins then recovered their onside kick, giving them one more chance at a win.
On fourth-and-four from the Beaver 49, OSU defensive end LaDairis Jackson sacked Paus with two seconds remaining and the 44-38 victory was secure. It was Jackson's third sack of the game.
"We put ourselves in that situation because we gave up that touchdown," Jackson said. "We knew we had to stop them – and we did that.
"We take pride in our defense. That's what makes champions."
Oregon State outgained UCLA 604-435 in total yards and had 31 first downs to UCLA's 22. The Beavers outrushed the Bruins 253-72; McCall had 146 yards on 23 carries and Simonton 100 yards on 24 carries. Simonton hadn't carried the ball since midway through the third quarter; Erickson said he had aggravated a hamstring injury.
"This win keeps us in the race, which is unusual for Oregon State," Erickson said. "This is the most satisfying win at Oregon State so far to me."
On the UCLA side, Toledo called it "a heck of a football game."
"Hats off to Oregon State," he said. "It made plays when it needed to."
Paus passed for a career-high 363 yards for UCLA but Smith countered with a 23-for-37, 351-yard, four-touchdown day for OSU.
"We have guys who can make plays," Smith said. "I just have to make accurate throws. I just have to give them a chance."
Erickson didn't let Smith off so lightly, saying of his quarterback, "Today he threw the football better than I've seen him throw, by far."
Johnson had eight catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, Maurer six for 51 yards and a score, Houshmandzadeh five for 69 yards and a touchdown and Prescott three for 120 yards and a touchdown as OSU completed its first-ever football season sweep of the Los Angeles schools.
"We have not gotten any respect at all," Johnson said. "After this game, I think we will. I think his proves we are for real. What else would we have to do?"
Wrote Bill Shaikin in Sunday morning's Los Angeles Times: "In the final seconds, several Oregon State players turned their backs on the game to proclaim their superiority by waving towels above their heads and prancing before the UCLA fans …
"Yes, Virginia, the Beavers might play in the Rose Bowl."
Oregon State news wasn't limited to the sports sections of the Sunday papers. The Gazette-Times, capitalizing on interest in Beaver football, ran a front-page spread celebrating gameday in Corvallis, looking at how OSU's newfound gridiron success was affecting local fans and businesses.
Valerie Brannen, owner of Gorilla Grams Greetings, said the city's atmosphere changed when the victories began.
"It's like the anticipation of Christmas," Brannen said. "Everybody wants to be the hometown for a winning team."
The Beavers' next chance to keep the magic alive would be back in their hometown, with Washington State visiting for Homecoming.