CORVALLIS, Ore. — It hasn’t taken long to notice Jermar Jefferson’s impact on the field for Oregon State the past two weeks.
One week after going 75 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game, the junior running back broke free for an 82-yard touchdown run on his first carry Friday night in the Beavers’ 41-38 win over Oregon.
“That boy is special,” receiver Kolby Taylor said. “Two games in a row he’s got 80-yard touchdown runs. (It) definitely makes our jobs easier on the outside.”
Like last week’s long run, Jefferson said the play was set up by an audible call by quarterback Tristan Gebbia.
“The play wasn’t going to me at first,” Jefferson said. “Tristan audibled it to a Y-zone play. When they called it, I saw that the defense was unadjusted, so I knew it was going to be a big hole. I went through it and saw daylight.”
Jefferson continued to pile up yards after that first carry, finishing with 226 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns.
“We’ve got a special running back,” coach Jonathan Smith said. “That makes a difference.”
With each game this season, Jefferson’s yard totals get bigger — 120 vs. Washington State, 133 vs. Washington, 196 vs. California.
His 226 yards on Friday night was the most ever by a player in the 124-game history of the Oregon-Oregon State rivalry.
“I really don’t feel like I get the recognition I deserve,” Jefferson said. “I’ve just got to put my head down, keeping working hard. The only person that knows is God … I’ve been underrated all my life so I’m used to it.”
He is not underrated by his teammates.
“He’s a heck of a player, heck of a teammate,” linebacker Andrez Hughes-Murray said. “In my opinion, I think he’s the best there is. You guys saw it tonight. He’s a heck of a player, a gamechanger and home-run hitter.”
The final minute of the game seemed to last a half-hour with defensive stops, replay reviews, an injury and finally a game-winning touchdown by a backup quarterback taking his first college snap.
“How about that — Chance Nolan goes in for his first college football play in Division I, probably the biggest play of the game, and he gets it done,” Smith said.
Jefferson’s 4-yard run on first down took the ball to the 2-yard line. Gebbia then ran a sneak and appeared to break the goal line, but was ruled short. Replays did not overturn the call on the field.
On third down, Gebbia tried to sneak it again, but was stacked up by the Oregon defense. On the play, Gebbia got hurt.
On came Nolan, a redshirt sophomore, for the fourth-down play, instead of Camas graduate Jack Colletto, who has been called on several times at quarterback in short-yardage situations.
“We did consider Colletto for the short yardage earlier in the game,” Smith said. “But we decided on the sneak again, and that’s Chance’s play.”
Jefferson said Gebbia scored on the second-down play.
“It was crazy,” Jefferson said. “I know the first quarterback sneak, he got in for sure. I had seen it. But we can’t control it. We tried it again, didn’t work. Tristan got hurt, then Chance came in and stepped up big time for us.”
Smith said Gebbia suffered a hamstring injury, which he didn’t believe to be serious, even though the quarterback was seen on crutches in the post-game celebration.
Big defensive stops
Somewhat overlooked with the craziness at the end, but the Oregon State defense came up with big plays in the fourth quarter.
First, there was Nashon Wright’s interception early in the quarter that set the Beavers up to take their first lead at 34-31.
The Beavers produced a huge 3-and-out to give the offense the ball back at midfield with 1:55 left.
“That was huge,” Smith said. “That was game-changing. We get stopped on fourth down. We’ve got no momentum whatsoever. We did have the three timeouts. For them to get the three plays and the stop like that (was huge).”
Even without fans, Oregon State made the most of the postgame celebrations.
Cars could be heard honking around Reser Stadium afterwards. And the fan cutouts from the end zone seats were scattered in the end zone, simulating fans rushing the field.
The exuberance was matched in the Oregon State locker room.
“I think you can imagine,” Hughes-Murray said with a chuckle. “Excited. Joyful. Very thankful. Because at the end of the day, this is a blessing.”