Teammates, fans, coaches and reporters all wanted a piece of the Eastern Washington quarterback – something the Oregon State defense could never grasp in the Eagles’ epic 49-46 win Saturday night.
Adams ran and threw for a Reser Stadium-record 518 combined yards in a win that could be the biggest win in school history, even surpassing the Eagles’ 2010 FCS championship.
“Maybe,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said. “In fact, some might argue that a win like this can draw more attention to your program than a national title.”
Said Adams, “It was all just so much fun.”
Fun, indeed. At times, Adams seemed to have twice as many fast-twitch muscles as the entire OSU defense, evading tackles, scrambling and torching the 25th-ranked Beavers for six touchdowns.
But after passing for four touchdowns and running for another, Adams and the Eagles still found themselves trailing 46-43 with 23 seconds left.
While conferring with Baldwin, Adams said, “ ‘Coach, let’s just go with the boot.’”
Adams took the snap, bootlegged right and sprinted into the end zone as the several hundred Eagle fans in the opposite end zone cheered the go-ahead touchdown.
“I’m so thankful I scored,” said Adams, who broke the total offense record of 515 yards set by quarterback Alex Brink of Washington State.
But Adams dropped the ball on the extra point, giving the Beavers a final shot. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion completed two passes to the Eastern 34, the last with two or three seconds left, depending on whom you ask.
Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks caught the final pass, then fell to the ground with two seconds to play, but officials ordered a second to be put back on the clock.
A new NCAA rule imposed this year requires at least three seconds remaining for the quarterback to spike the ball.
The Eastern coaches protested, but the extra second allowed Mannion to spike the ball, bringing on kicker Trevor Romaine for the potential field goal.
Romaine’s kick had the distance on the 52-yard attempt, but was wide right.
“I thought it went in, and I was going to be so upset,” Baldwin said. “But whatever, we would have played OT and come up with a few more plays. But it didn’t go in, and our guys just fought to the end.”
Even as the ball hit the ground in front of the Eastern fans, the players and coaches ran their way to start the celebration. Eastern had never beaten a Pac-12 opponent, let alone a ranked one with 16 returning starters.
“This is the greatest feeling ever, to beat a team you grow up seeing your whole life,” said Eastern tight end Jake Withnell, who grew up in nearby Salem. “It’s probably the only time I’m going to play on this field, so this is just amazing.”
The final 23 seconds were only the final twist in a game full of drama on both sides of the ball. After settling for two field goals and trailing 7-6 after the first quarter, Adams and his receivers kept the Beavers guessing wrong the entire second quarter.
In just three series totaling 12 plays, the Adams threw for three touchdowns – two to Ashton Clark and two to redshirt freshman Cooper Kupp – to help Eastern to a 29-17 lead as the Beaver fans booed their defense.
But the Beavers regrouped at halftime. Mannion, who completed 37 of 43 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns, cut the Eagle lead to 29-24, mixing the pass and run.
On the next Eastern possession, Adams opened with a 4-yard run up to the middle, then fell to the ground. Trainers helped him to the sideline, where he warmed up on the exercise bike while backup Anthony Vitto took over. The Eagles picked up two first downs, but Vitto was sacked on third-and-13 at the Eagle 35 and the Eagles punted for the first time in the game.
Cramping badly, Adams was sent to the lockerrom for intravenous fluids while the Beavers retook the lead on Mannion’s 3-yard pass to Tyler Perry and a two-point conversion pass.
But Vitto found Kupp for a 21-yard gain to the Eastern 47 just as Adams reappeared. Back in the game, he took the Eagles the rest of the way, capping a 10-play, 69-yard drive with a 19-yard dash into the end zone.
Said Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, “You don’t really prepare for something like that, and we were a step behind. He was eluding tackles, which I think was a major factor in the game.
“And then there were the big plays he made. Early in the game he set the tone for how the rest of the game went,” Riley said.
Clark finished with nine catches for 155 yards and a touchdown, while Kupp had five grabs for 119 yards and two scores.
But the Beaver offense responded. Cooks finished with 13 catches for a personal-best 196 yards and two touchdowns, but as the Eagles adjusted, OSU went to its tight ends.
“They were in max-protect and he (Mannion) got some time,” said John Graham, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator. “We’re not a big man team and we were having trouble finding those guys.
“But we found a way to win,” Graham said.
Oregon State took a 39-36 lead on Mannion’s 14-yard pass to Cooks with 13:46 left, but even as Kupp was lost to cramps, Adams found Washington State transfer Blair Bomber alone on the right sideline for a 47-yard touchdown barely three minutes later.
“I screwed up that play three times in practice,” Bomber said. “A couple of guys went down and they called my number.”
Even more new numbers were called on the defense, as linebackers Ronnie Hamlin and Cody McCarthy also were sidelined. True freshman Albert Havili made four tackles and redshirt freshman Miquiyah Zamora had two more.
“They grew up a lot today,” Eastern linebackers coach Josh Fetter said. “A lot of wide-eyed looks went away real fast.”
On their next drive, the Beavers marched 67 yards in 12 plays, capped by Terron Ward’s 4-yard run that put them ahead for the the final time, 46-43 with 4:50 to play.
A lot time for OSU to respond, even if the Eagles scored. “Extend the clock, that was kind of the thought process,” Baldwin said.
“It’s easy to say, but hard to do,” Baldwin said.
Starting from his own 25, Adams moved the Eagles to the OSU 28, then left yet again with cramps. But Vitto hit Bomber for 8 yards and a first down at the 20. Adams returned on the next play and ran 16 yards to the 16, but running back Jabari Wilson was held to a 1-yard gain on the next play.
While the Beavers were burning their last timeouts, Adams threw into the end zone, and the Beavers drew a pass-interference penalty that did two big things: move the ball two yards closer to the end zone and give the Eagles a fresh set of downs.
Wilson ran it again, gaining 2 more yards to set up Adams’ winning score.