CORVALLIS — Mike Riley thought he was missing something on the field.
Just a couple minutes after Brandin Cooks had run in a 48-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter of Oregon State’s 62-14 demolition of California on Saturday night, a roar went up through cold, drizzly Reser Stadium.
“I was back on the bench talking to someone and I heard the crowd go crazy," Riley said.
Fans were cheering not because anything special was happening on the field, but because the scoreboard flashed a final score from down the road in Eugene: Stanford 17, Oregon 14. The top-ranked Ducks had gone down to defeat, and the stage was set for the 116th Civil War.
Oregon State (8-2 overall, 6-2 Pac-12) will be hoping to knock off the Ducks for the first time in the rivalry game since an overtime thriller in 2007 at Autzen Stadium. Oregon (10-1, 7-1) needs to beat the Beavers and hope for a Stanford loss against UCLA in order to keep alive its hopes for a fourth-straight Pac-12 championship.
“There’s a little more at stake," against the Ducks this year, Beavers cornerback Rashaad Reynolds said in reference to the past two Civil Wars, which Oregon State entered with a losing record.
This year, the Beavers are poised for a decent bowl berth, and they enter the Oregon game coming off their most complete performance of the season, a total domination of the Golden Bears. Quarterback Sean Mannion passed for 325 yards after regaining the starting job he lost to Cody Vaz earlier in the year. A big night (128 yards) from Terron Ward helped establish the running game. The Beavers rolled up a total of 559 yards against Cal, which turned the ball over three times — two fumbles and an interception — against an opportunistic OSU defense.
“I feel like we are peaking at the right time," Ward said.
Curiously, despite the big win, the Beavers dropped a spot to No. 16 in this week’s Associated Press poll. The Ducks fell to No. 5 after having the nation’s longest winning streak stopped at 13 games. Oregon also dropped to No. 5 in the BCS standings, where Oregon State is now No. 15.
Oregon State has been competitive in only one of the past four Civil Wars — a 37-33 loss in 2009. The Beavers were not even a speed bump for the Ducks in 2010 and 2011. Oregon won 37-20 two years ago en route to the BCS Championship game and 49-21 last year as a prelude to the Rose Bowl.
For the past two seasons, the Beavers have not had a bowl game to play in after falling to the Oregon juggernaut. There is a distinct feeling around the team — which will play in a bowl game — that this year’s Civil War could be different.
The Beavers are the third-ranked defense in the conference, and they could possess the run-stopping ability and experience in the secondary to slow the Ducks’ high-powered offense, which is averaging 51.1 points per game even after getting stuck in neutral against Stanford.
The game will be played at Reser Stadium, where the Beavers are 5-0 this season. And unlike the Ducks, who have pretty much taken the company line about no one game being more important than any other, Oregon State’s players are open about how motivated they are to take down their rivals.
Said senior OSU receiver Markus Wheaton: “It is unexplainable how much it means to me."