CORVALLIS -- In the end, there was too much Tyler Gaffney, too much defensive pressure and not quite enough precision on the offensive end by Oregon State.
It added up to a 20-12 victory Saturday night at Reser Stadium for eighth-ranked Stanford (7-1 overall, 4-1 in Pac-12 play), a result that will leave the Beavers (6-2, 4-1) as rueful film critics on Sunday.
"Our guys will be disappointed," OSU coach Mike Riley said. "This will be a hard game to watch on film. There will be stuff where we just missed our chances. They'll see some plays they could have made."
One of them came at the end, after Oregon State came back from the almost dead to put itself into position to force overtime. On fourth-and-goal at the Stanford 7-yard line, with those remaining of the crowd of 44,519 on their feet in breathless anticipation, Sean Mannion rifled a pass into the end zone that Kevin Cummings caught, then dropped as he was blasted by a pair of defenders with one second remaining.
"Thought we were going to score, tie it up and go to overtime," Riley said. "I like how we fought."
Stanford threw for 88 yards, lost the first downs battle 23-13 and was 2 for 9 on third-down conversions. But Gaffney rushed for 145 yards and a career-high three touchdowns and the Cardinal stuffed Oregon State's running game and sacked Mannion eight times to knock the Beavers from the ranks of the unbeaten in conference action.
"Offensively, we put our defense in some tough spots," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "For the most part, (the Cardinal defenders) bailed us out, especially there at the end."
It was a bruising, physical battle in which the defenses of both sides had the upper hand most of the way. The Stanford offense went smashmouth at times, going for 185 yards rushing. But Oregon State's defense more than held its own and almost completely shut down the Cardinal aerial attack.
"Every year, Stanford comes with a hard-nosed team," OSU senior cornerback Rashaad Reynolds said. "When you play Stanford, you have to make sure you put your dukes up. Those guys play hard every down. They did that tonight. But we were up for the challenge."
Oregon State's defenders "were outstanding," Shaw said. "I want to give them credit, as mad as I with our effort on the offensive side. Their pass rush was phenomenal. They got after us. It wasn't just (Scott) Crichton, and I've always respected that young man. It was the whole group up front."
Mannion, leading the nation in nearly every statistical passing category and averaging 414.3 yards per game, completed 41 of 57 passes but for only 271 yards and one touchdown. The 6-5, 220-pound junior had Stanford defenders in his face all night and often wasn't left with enough time to find open receivers.
"Stanford is very good, tough and smart defensively," Riley said. "Their pass rush is good. In order to get the ball downfield, you need a little time. They play very deep with their linebackers and secondary. You sometimes don't have the time to wait to have your (receivers) go through some of those seams. They have a lot of veterans who have been good for a while. I have a lot of respect for them."
The Cardinal boast a Pac-12-high 16 senior starters, including punter Ben Rhyne, and a defensive group that contained both Mannion and Brandin Cooks, who entered the game leading the nation in every statistical receiving category.
Cooks went electric after a quiet first half, finishing with nine catches for 80 yards, three carries for 18 yards and three punt returns for 74 yards. Those numbers were palatable for the Cardinal.
"I'm not just kissing up to him," Shaw said. "Outside of when we played SC last year with Marquis Lee, (the pre-game scouting video on Cooks) is the best receiving film I've seen since I've been here. Brandin Cooks is phenomenal.
"We had a really good game plan. We tried to play him over the top. He caught some balls in front of us, and we said we would live with that. It was a great team effort, because you can't put just one guy on him. He's so fast and explosive. We kept him under wraps for the most part."
The Cardinal "play smart defense," said Cooks, who had two receptions for only two yards in the first half. "Their coach puts them in the right position. But it gave other guys chances to step up for us -- Richard Mullaney, our tight ends and our screen game."
Mullaney caught six passes for 68 yards. Tight ends Kellen Clute, Tyler Perry and Caleb Smith combined for 11 receptions. Running backs Terron Ward and Storm Woods combined for another nine catches.
But the Beavers ran for a net 34 yards as the badly harassed Mannion suffered 60 yards in losses via sack.
"We need to be better at beating pressure," Mannion said. "As the game went on, (the Cardinal) turned up the heat on us. But I threw it a few times where I need to get rid of the ball faster.
"We left a few plays on the field. I'm upset about a few plays myself."
"Sean knows how this thing works," Riley said. "There were times he missed throws. But there were times when he didn't have a chance."
The Beavers had their chances to the very end, but a 92-second span at the end of the first half and start of the second half spelled their doom.
They held a 3-0 lead and had fourth-and-a-foot at the Stanford 34 with less than a minute to go in the second quarter. Riley eschewed a 51-yard field goal attempt by Trevor Romaine -- who had already booted one from 50 -- and tried a quarterback sneak. But Mannion was stuffed, turning it over to the Cardinal with 46 seconds left.
On third-and-12, QB Kevin Hogan found Ty Montgomery for 37 yards down the left sideline to the OSU 31. Two plays later, Hogan scrambled for 22 yards to the OSU 4. On the next play, Gaffney bounced off a pile at the 5 and skirted into the end zone for a touchdown and a 7-3 halftime lead.
"We'd played a great half up to that point," Reynolds said. "We did some things you can't do right before halftime. It gave (the Cardinal) a little momentum."
On the opening kickoff of the third quarter, Oregon State true freshman Victor Bolden fumbled, Stanford recovering at the OSU 12. Two plays later, Gaffney scored from nine yards and shockingly, before many of the Beaver fans had found their seats, the Cardinal led 13-3.
"That was absolutely the tale of the game -- the end of the first half and opening of second half," Riley said. "Fourteen points in a low-scoring ballgame occurred within three minutes of each other."
About half that time, actually.
Late in the third quarter, Oregon State put together an impressive drive that covered 90 yards on a dozen plays. Mannion capping it with an eight-yard touchdown strike to Cooks. Romaine's PAT kick was blocked, though, leaving the Beavers behind 13-9 with 46 seconds left in the quarter.
Stanford upped the ante to 20-9 after Gaffney's 32-yard TD scamper with 12:01 to play. Oregon State appeared dead in the water after punting to Stanford still trailing by 11 points with 4 1/2 minutes left. But Gaffney's fumble was recovered by OSU's Dylan Wynn at the Cardinal 20, giving the Beavers new life.
Romaine's 39-yard field goal closed the gap to 20-12 with 3 minutes to play.
Riley chose not to onside kick, and Oregon State's defense forced a punt. Cooks -- who had already returned one punt 41 yards -- took this one back 28 yards to set up the Beavers at the Stanford 43 with 1:34 remaining.
The Beavers, with no timeouts remaining and needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to force an extra session, moved to the Cardinal 7 on Cooks' 14-yard reception with 23 seconds to go.
After three incompletions, Mannion fired to Cummings for a final chance to pull off a miracle. For a fleeting moment, it appeared he caught the ball, but to no avail.
"We were right there on the 7-yard line," Cooks said. "The opportunity was there.
"There were some errors we could have fixed throughout that game. We'll learn from it. We played a great team. With so many mistakes like that, you lose by eight points? That's going to give us hope for the rest of the season."
Oregon State was only 6 for 17 on third-down conversions and 1 for 5 on fourth-down conversions. Not long after Romaine booted his career-long 50-yard field goal, Riley turned down a 35-yard attempt to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Stanford 18 with the Beavers ahead 3-0 in the second quarter. Mannion threw an incompletion. There was also the potential 51-yard attempt when Mannion failed on a quarterback sneak.
Does Riley regret not going for the field goals?
"I probably will," he said. "I thought we should be able to get (a first down). We've been pretty consistent with that this year.
"We'll probably look back at a lot of things in this game as missed opportunities. That's what I see those as -- not just not trying a field goal. We had opportunities at their end of the field that we didn't capitalize on."
Cooks said he was glad Riley chose to go for it instead of punt or try a field goal.
"That's what you have to do in a big-time game like this, when you're playing a top-10 team in your own backyard," the junior receiver said. "Coach Riley trusts us. It's not on him. We have to make those plays."
Riley said if he had it to do over again, he wouldn't have punted to Stanford trailing 20-9 inside the game's final five minutes.
"I just felt I'd use our timeouts and (let's) see what would happen," he said. "We ended up getting lucky the way it worked out."
The Stanford game is the beginning of a five-game minefield stretch of schedule that includes Southern Cal next Friday night, followed by Arizona State, Washington and Oregon.
"What we'll try to do now is position ourselves to beat SC," Riley said. "There's no getting around it -- the toughest games on our schedule started today.
"As we go we will be defined according to how we finish against the best teams in our league. It will be challenging, for sure, but if tonight's an indication, we have a shot to win some more games."
NOTES: Mannion had thrown for 350 yards or more in each of Oregon State's first seven games. Ward's 34-yard run in the third quarter was Oregon State's longest of the season. Oregon State did a great job with Montgomery, who came into the game leading the nation with a 35.2-yard kickoff return average. He returned three for 50 yards and also caught only three passes for 55 yards. Oregon State, already without starting tight end Connor Hamlett (knee), lost backup Caleb Smith to a back injury in the first half. Starting defensive tackle John Braun (shoulder) started but played sparingly and linebacker D.J. Alexander left the game in the second half with an apparent stinger. Stanford ended the first half with 162 yards total offense -- 101 rushing and yards passing. Oregon State managed only 98 yards -- 88 through the air and 10 via the ground. The game's most spectacular defensive play came after Stanford marched into the OSU red zone on its second possession. On first-and-10 from the OSU 17, Stanford reserve quarterback Dallas Lloyd fumbled. OSU's Crichton scooped it up and raced 36 yards to the Cardinal 42. Stanford started Jordan Pratt, a walk-on from Central High, at receiver instead of injured Devon Cajuste. Pratt, 28, played pro baseball for eight years, advancing as high as Triple-A as a right-handed pitcher in the Dodgers' organization. Pratt did not catch a pass.
SCORE BY PERIODS
Stanford 0 7 6 7 -- 20
Oregon State 0 3 6 3 -- 12
OSU -- Trevor Romaine 50 FG 12:48
STAN -- Tyler Gaffney 4 run (Conrad Ukropina kick) :07
STAN -- Gaffney 9 run (kick failed) 14:08
OSU -- Brandin Cooks 8 pass from Sean Mannion (kick blocked) :46
STAN -- Gaffney 32 run (Ukropina kick) 12:01
OSU -- Romaine 39 FG 1:13
ATT. -- 44,519