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Canzano: Oregon State hammers away Fresno State curse
Gutsy victory leaves Beavers with 2-0 record.
FRESNO, Calif. — I’ve seen some wild things here. For example, the goal posts came down after Fresno State upset Oregon State a couple of decades ago. The students ripped them out after beating the Beavers in 2001 and carried them off, parading down Bulldog Lane.
Another time, a visiting team accused a fan of throwing a screwdriver at their bench. And in 2003, OSU quarterback Derek Anderson insisted he got hit with a battery tossed from the student section. But what we’d never seen in Fresno — not anybody, ever — was a Beavers’ win.
Oregon State was 0-6 in Fresno.
That is, until Saturday night.
Stone-cold Jonathan Smith went for it on first-down-and-the-game from the 2. Well, first the Beavers lined up to kick a game-tying field goal with three seconds left. It would have sent the game to overtime. But when Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford iced the OSU kicker by calling a timeout, Smith changed his mind.
We suspected he might.
The Beavers’ coach summoned the Swiss-Army-knife known as Jack Colletto. The quarterback-turned-linebacker-turned-running-back took a direct snap, rumbled to his right, and broke Fresno State in half with a game-winning touchdown.
The Beavers raced off the sidelines, celebrating the win. Bulldogs’ fans sat, stunned. The hometown public address announcer hesitated… then waited… then, finally, managed a solemn: “Final score…Oregon State 35, Fresno State 32.”
Goodbye, Fresno curse.
Hello, 2-0 season.
The goalposts must have exhaled.
I watched the scene unfold from the stadium press box. To my right, through a couple of glass panels, about 10 yards away, was a small room with six chairs in it and a handful of OSU coaches wearing headsets. This is where the Beavers’ assistants worked for a few long hours on Saturday night.
They took notes on paper with pencils during the game. They relayed the defensive and offensive calls. Once in a while, one of them would pound a fist on the table top.
Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren wasn’t in direct view during the final play. Not at first, anyway. But when Smith made the decision to go for it, the Beavers’ coaches rose to their feet and dropped their pencils.
They leaned forward.
The headsets came off.
The OSU assistants looked like a bunch of guys in Vegas on a bachelor-party weekend, huddled around a craps table. What would the dice do? When Colletto waltzed in with that jackhammer of a score, they slapped the glass panels with their palms and hugged each other like they’d rolled a winner.
This program sure is fun sometimes, isn’t it?
The Beavers are 1-6 all-time in Fresno today. The losing streak is snapped. No batteries were thrown. No screwdrivers, either. But Oregon State should cash out and never come back here.
Not to play football, anyway.
OSU athletic director Scott Barnes went to college at Fresno State. Before the game, he pointed at his wife and told me, “She went here, too, you know.” That’s great. But if anyone sees Barnes pick up the office telephone and attempt to schedule his alma mater for another football game, I hope someone pulls the cord out of the wall.
What’s the ceiling now for Oregon State’s season?
Smith told me in July that his goal was to go to Las Vegas and play for the Pac-12 championship. He reasoned that OSU would be in every game this season. And they were right in there against Fresno State on Saturday night.
“Why not us?” Smith asked.
I wondered about that a few times during the game. The Beavers struggled on third downs. They dropped too many passes. It looked, right up until that final minute or so, as if Oregon State would board the plane home 0-7 all-time in Fresno.
Still, Pat Hill, the former Bulldogs’ coach, pulled me aside at halftime and said, “The kid is doing a really good job.”
He was talking about Smith, 43.
Oregon State drove the length of the field, trailing by three points, with the clock bleeding out on Saturday. It was the wildest thing — watching a college football team decide it finally had enough of losing in one city.
I wrote early on Saturday morning about a scene that happened at Bulldog Stadium in 2001. Oregon State was ranked No. 10 that night and got clobbered by Pat Hill’s Fresno State team.
The Bulldogs’ coach spoke with media at the post-game news conference. But Hill was so excited by the win that he marched up to the press box a while later to talk more about the game. He appeared behind me, slapped me on the back as I wrote my column, and yelled, “How about that, Johnny!?!”
“Only in Fresno,” I thought at the time.
On Saturday night, Hill’s voice once again echoed down the press-box hallway. This time, after an Oregon State victory. He’s working as the home team’s radio analyst now.
“Hey, Johnny…” Hill called out.
Then, the ex-coach said of OSU’s Chance Nolan, “That quarterback is really gutsy. I like ‘em. The kid’s got guts.”
Before he left for home, Hill offered, “You know, that Costello kid…” — pronouncing Colletto’s name as he saw fit — “on radio, I called him the new Gordie Lockbaum of college football.”
That old nemesis coach might just be onto something.
So might Oregon State.
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