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Bill Oram: With loss to Huskies, the lights are dimming on Oregon State’s breakout season

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And wouldn’t you believe it, the lights went out at Husky Stadium. Funny that Seattle has a stadium called Lumen Field, but in the fourth quarter on Friday, the one the Oregon State Beavers played in suddenly produced zero lumens.

Fourth quarter. Tie game. Darkness.

Oh, boy.

It took more than 20 minutes for the bulbs to reboot. A few hundred kind souls in the stands attempted to aid the effort by waving their cellphone flashlights. This, believe it or not, was somehow not the lowest-wattage performance of the night.

No, that belonged to Oregon State’s offense for most of the final three quarters. The No. 23 Beavers lost 24-21 to the Huskies on the shores of Lake Washington and you couldn’t help but feel they shouldn’t have.

In the first quarter the Beavers dominated.

They controlled the ball for all but four minutes of the quarter. On the opening drive, they went 75 yards on nine plays — six of them running plays — for a touchdown. On their next drive, they chewed up nearly six minutes over 12 plays.

On the Beavers’ first possession in the second quarter, they took advantage of a muffed punt and took the ball to Washington’s 15.

All that offensive success and good fortune over three drives and they came away with just seven points. As well as the Beavers were playing, for all the momentum they had, their second and third drives stalled out on downs. First, the mighty Jack Colletto was stuffed on fourth and 1 from Washington’s 7. You can’t blame coach Jonathan Smith for going for it there. The second attempt was more suspect: On fourth and 3 from Washington’s 15, Ben Gulbranson threw short of Damien Martinez.

This was always a game that figured to favor Oregon State’s style. Heavy rain was predicted for most of the week. And while it stayed dry, the wind absolutely howled.

During pregame warm-ups, kicks were flying all over the place. One from the Washington side flew out of bounds, off the railing and bonked an Oregon State cheerleader on the head. Beavers punter Luke Loecher tried to angle a practice kick left and it ended up five rows into the seats. Smith acknowledged the wind was a factor in his decision to go for it.

This is how the Oregon State likes to play. He’s a gambler.

“We’re going to err on aggression down there,” he said.

Smith’s gutsy calls are a perfect match for scrappy Oregon State. They’ve helped him rebuild the identity and culture of a program that was in disarray when he arrived five years ago.

But the thing that wins you some games you shouldn’t win can also lose you games you should have won. Friday was destined to be a nail-biter. Every point mattered.

Kick the field goal. Take the points.

Were those fourth-down calls the difference on Friday? Not exclusively. Do the Beavers win if they kick it from UW’s 15? Not necessarily.

The OSU defense let Washington convert way too many third-and-long plays and the offense struggled to string together first downs. They committed crippling penalties in the fourth quarter.

But they sure bailed Washington out of what was turning into a major jam.

By the time the Huskies woke up, the Beavers could have been up 21-0. At minimum, they should have led 10-zip.

I get it. Oregon State needs to capitalize on their trips into the red zone. Most weeks you aren’t going to beat Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with field goals. Smith knows all this and has thought it all through. He’s no dim bulb.

Imagine this group with stronger quarterback play. Imagine if J.T. Daniels had ended up in Corvallis instead of Morgantown. Smith has to go find a better answer in the offseason, but by next year much of this veteran roster that helped rebuild the program will be gone. So yeah, go for the jugular when you can.

But sometimes you’ve got to pull back. Washington’s Kalen DeBoer, an aggressive coach in his own right, admitted after the game it’s not in his nature to play for a field goal at the end of the game. But on third and goal with less than 20 seconds left in the game, he had Penix kneel the ball at OSU’s 5 and trust his kicker.

There are moments when a coach must protect himself from his own instincts.

There was a lot riding on Friday’s game for Oregon State. Beat the Huskies, and they would have been in great shape to beat Cal and Arizona State and carry a 9-2 record into the rivalry game against Oregon at Reser Stadium.

Notching 10 wins for just the third time in program history would have very much been on the table.

That’s a lot tougher to envision now.

“It’s ugly,” offensive lineman Jake Levengood said. “We’re down.”

Oregon State has experienced a remarkable revitalization under Smith. They entered Friday’s nationally televised matchup at 6-2 and were one fourth-down stop away from beating USC. Their No. 23 ranking this week marked their first time in the Top 25 since 2013, which, incidentally, was the last time they went to a bowl game before Smith’s arrival.

They have the promise of a bowl game to fall back on this year.

“A lot of football left,” linebacker Omar Speights said, “so finish out the season strong.”

The dreams of a Pac-12 championship were dashed with the back-to-back losses to USC and Utah a month ago. On Friday, the Beavers fell back an additional tier.

After a chilly, 20-minute hiatus, the lights came back on. Thomas Edison would have been proud.

The Beavers and Huskies both went three-and-out. Forget the adage about bark and bite, these Dawgs seemed to be all dark and no light.

Then the Beavers got to Washington’s 39, only to be backed up by penalties and forced to punt once again.

Washington’s drive started at its own 3-yard line. Penix’s early-game misfires were well behind him. He took the Huskies on a 92-yard drive that consisted of 18 plays. Then, with eight seconds left, Washington kicked the go-ahead 22-yard field goal — right into the wind.

It was the first time the Huskies led.

Maybe before OSU comes back, they can at least upgrade to LED.

Bill Oram reported from Seattle.

boram@oregonian.com | Twitter: @billoram

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