Trailing by just three points early in the third quarter, Oregon State was all set to take the Civil War down to the wire.
Then bizarre things started happening, few of them helpful to the Beavers' cause.
Five turnovers (six in all) in less than a 15 minute span bridging the third and fourth quarters allowed Oregon to pull away for a 48-24 victory Saturday in Corvallis, as the Ducks converted multiple Beaver miscues into 21 points, turning a 20-17 nail-biter with less than 11 minutes left in the third quarter into an unexpected rout.
After a disappointing second half performance against its bitter in-state rival, how much does Oregon State have left in the tank?
The answer to that question is important because unlike most years the Civil War doesn't mark the end of the regular season for the Beavers. Division I-AA (FCS) Nicholls State (1-9) is set to travel to Reser Stadium on Saturday for the makeup of contest postponed when Hurricane Isaac tore through the state of Louisiana in late August and prevented Nicholls from traveling to the Pacific Northwest.
"We're on to the next game," coach Mike Riley said Sunday night during his weekly teleconference with reporters. "There are some good things about (playing another game seven days after losing the Civil War). It will be nice to play a game and try to play better and try to win a game. After that, we'll get ready for a bowl game."
Interestingly, the 11:30 a.m. PT kickoff for the game against the woeful Colonels will occur less than 24 hours after Friday night's Pac-12 championship game between Stanford and UCLA in Palo Alto, Calif.
Riley and the Oregon State coaches were in the initial stages of breaking down Nicholls State film on Sunday evening, he said.
"It looks to me like they play both a four-man front and three-man front and play as a base quarters coverage (two high safeties)," Riley said. "At this point in the year, you rarely see anything tremendously new. It looks like they still have (the same schemes) from what we remembered from earlier. They have a couple of big guys in the interior that create some havoc. We're going to have to block on the inside if we're going to run well."
While the Beavers have one game left to play, the sour taste from the second half meltdown against the Ducks will surely - and understandably - linger for a few days around the practice fields.
"We played a very good football team and gave them too many opportunities and, in the meantime, took those opportunities away from us," Riley said. "How many turnovers did we have? You just can't do that."
In addition to gifting the Ducks far too many points, the Beavers allowed 430 rushing yards. Oregon averaged 6.7 yards per rush on 64 attempts. Oregon State knew going into the Civil War that they had to slow down the Ducks' rushing attack, but they failed to do it.
Prior to the Civil War, the most rushing yards given up by the Beavers this season were 190 by California on November 17. Oregon exceeded that figure by halftime with 250 rushing yards in the opening 30 minutes.
"They did a great job of blocking," Riley said. "The biggest problem we had early on was setting the edge. They were outflanking our defense and running outside. As the game progressed, they started hitting some inside shots too. That's what happens. You overcompensate and become vulnerable somewhere else."
Because of the untimely turnovers, Oregon's final three touchdown drives traveled 34, 36 and 23 yards. The last two scores resulted from interceptions thrown by OSU quarterback Sean Mannion, who completed 31-of-49 passes for 311 yards, but tossed four picks into the welcoming arms of Oregon defenders.
A frustrating 5-1/2 minute period of the third quarter saw the deficit jump from three (20-17) to 17 points (34-17) without the Beavers snapping the ball on offense. Later, Mannion was intercepted three straight possessions to kill any hopes for an OSU comeback.
"The most disappointing part for me is that it could have been a good football game down to the wire," Riley said. "We prevented that. They're very good and we gave them too many opportunities. We had it 20-17 and the next time we had the ball the score was already 34-17."
Mannion threw four interceptions for the second time this season and enters the final week with 13 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions to go along with a 62.9 completion percentage (180-of-286) on his 2012 resume.
"No question we threw too many interceptions (on Saturday)," Riley said. "That's always a concern. You have to go through each one of them. They've watched the film and go through all that. We'll use those as teachable moments and go on from there. It doesn't have to be a constant thing at all. It can be eliminated."
Riley will evaluate his quarterbacks during the week and announce his starter for the Nicholls game later this week. The last meaningful action for Cody Vaz came in the Stanford loss three weeks ago. However, he is still recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered in the late stages against the Cardinal.
"We'll finally announce that as we go," Riley said. "We'll see where Cody is. He's practiced a little bit. But he still has that high ankle (injury) that lasts longer than a normal ankle sprain. I don't know if we're even ready to have that discussion yet."
Two of the five second half turnovers occurred on special teams when Devon Kell and Markus Wheaton fumbled on kick returns.
"You just can't do that. That's ridiculous," Riley said. "We haven't done stuff like that all year. I don't think the weather had anything to do with it. There were different reasons. One time, we started running before we had the ball. We just made mistakes. We tried to hurry instead of keeping our poise and making a play."
In Oregon State's three losses this season, the Beavers are minus-6 in turnovers. In their eight wins, they are plus-12 in turnover margin for an overall ratio of plus-six heading into the final season contest.
"It's hard to say why it may have happened to our team," Riley said. "I don't want to take away from what Oregon did. They're darn good and if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile and they'll do it quickly. Oregon played well.
"I know everyone is disappointed, no doubt about it. But we're dealing with a season and we have another game. Whatever the disappointment is, we have to fight through it. It will be a good lesson for our guys."
Oregon State responded to the 27-23 loss at Stanford on November 10 by whipping California, 62-14, in Corvallis seven days later, a game that turned out to be Jeff Tedford's last as head coach of the Golden Bears.
"These kids practiced like crazy after the Stanford game and had a good week," Riley said. "We won nicely. I'm just looking for good work. I'm sure they'll do that."
But the turnover-riddled second half in the Civil War left the Beavers wondering 'what-if' in an otherwise successful season because the common feeling around the OSU program in the days leading up the clash was they had an excellent chance to snap the four-game losing streak to the Ducks.
"The disappointing part for us is I don't think we played our best," Riley said. "We lost the game and right now we have to start the process of getting ready for another one."