Richard Mullaney slumped over at midfield of Autzen Stadium, engulfed in an ocean of celebrating green and gold.
An Oregon State teammate rushed over to pick him up, guiding the distraught receiver off the field in the seconds after an excruciating 36-35 loss to Oregon Friday night in the 117th Civil War.
It seemed fitting. All game the Beavers had been picking themselves off the turf.
But despite doing everything they could to win, as Mullaney’s reaction indicated, it still was not good enough.
Nobody outside of the Oregon State locker room expected the Beavers to be within a play or two of beating the Ducks, not after being pounded at home by Washington just six days ago. And with just over a minute and a half left in the game, it was the Beavers that had control, leading 35-30.
After a season-ending spiral, there is some pride in that.
But this was a game of caveats. Any point being countered by a profound “But,” a negative being countered with a positive.
“It hurts,” said senior defensive back Rashaad Reynolds. “It hurts a lot. Words can’t even describe how much it hurts.”
But Reynolds, an unquestioned team leader, had more to say.
“I’m proud of my guys, man,” Reynolds said, holding his head up high. “We worked. We didn’t give up. We got down early 14-0 and I am sure everybody else thought the game was over. But we kept pushing.”
In the minutes after Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota connected with Josh Huff for the game-winning touchdown, the Beavers were still digesting their conflicted feelings.
There really was much to be proud of.
Oregon State, a team that hasn’t run the ball all year, ran at will for 231 yards.
“We just did a better job and certainly makes you think what might have been had we been able to be that balanced during the course of the year,” OSU coach Mike Riley said of his run game.
Quarterback Sean Mannion, who this year too often locked in on star Brandin Cooks (who broke the Pac-12 Conference record Friday for receptions in a season), spread the ball to eight receivers in orange and only one in green and gold.
The tight ends set a season high in yards, and Mannion managed 314 yards and two scores on 29-of-47 passing. For him, it was a breakout performance against an elite team.
And after falling behind 14-0 early, Oregon State’s defense managed to slow down Oregon’s offense.
Anyone who watched last week’s debacle against the Huskies had to wonder if these were the same players.
“I was totally devastated by that (game against UW), disappointed in myself, our staff, the team,” said OSU coach Mike Riley. “I think it was absolutely essential we just come out and play good football and play hard.
“These kids did that. I told them ‘Now we can at least look in the mirror and look at each other and be proud of your team.’ ”
Forget about cliches. If ever there was a time for a moral victory, it was Friday.
The Beavers had so many opportunities to quit. When they fell behind 14-0 it looked dire.
When Terron Ward, whose 146 yards marked the first time an OSU runner rushed for more than 100 yards this season, slipped on UO’s 5-yard-line on a fourth-and-1 play late in the third quarter, the Beavers looked doomed.
After Oregon’s Huff scored on a fourth-and-goal from the 12 with 7:56 to play, putting the Ducks on top 30-29 with 7:56 to play, the Beaver defense snuffed out a 2-point conversion attempt.
All of it seemed so important when Oregon State went ahead on Victor Bolden’s 25-yard touchdown run on a fly sweep, putting the Beavers up 35-30 with 1:38 to play.
“I am just extremely, extremely proud of our team despite the loss,” Mannion said. “No one on our team quit the entire way. I couldn’t be prouder to be a member of this team the way we fought.”
“Every loss sucks, there really is nothing else to it,” Mannion added. “But I think there is a lot to feel good about.”
Of course, the counter is that when Oregon State needed to make one more play, it could not get it done.
Tantalizingly close but in the end disappointing. Sounds a lot like the legacy of this team, which counts this loss as its fifth consecutive downer.
The Beavers finished the season at 6-6 and in jeopardy of being left out of a bowl game, despite being eligible.
“Somebody wants this team in a bowl game,” Riley assured.
There is no way to erase the late-season collapse. But for the first time in a month, Oregon State looked like it deserved to be invited to the postseason.
“I think that they can be very proud of the fact that they competed like crazy tonight and played a lot of good football against a good football team and made a lot of plays on both sides of the ball,” Riley said.
Yes, Oregon State lost another Civil War.
But football can be a cruel sport, even when a team does all it can to win.
— Reporter: 541-617-7868, firstname.lastname@example.org .