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Originally published Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 7:55 PM

Washington, Oregon State fortunes swung on one ill-fated two-point conversion last season | Husky football

The Oregon State football team the Huskies play Saturday is living life a little differently than the ones Washington has seen the last...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Oregon State football team the Huskies play Saturday is living life a little differently than the ones Washington has seen the last few years.

Instead of making a late-season run at a bowl game and a Top 25 ranking, this year's Beavers are already eliminated from bowl contention at 2-8, hoping mostly to avoid their first 10-loss season since the days of Jerry Pettibone.

"It's just frustrating," said senior tight end Joe Halahuni of Orting High School, whose first two years with the Beavers involved games against Oregon with the Rose Bowl on the line. "I don't know what other words to say. That's about it. It's just frustrating."

Many in Corvallis point to last year's game against Washington, a 35-34 UW double-overtime win in Seattle, as the moment the change in fortunes began.

That's an especially cruel reality for Halahuni, who under heavy coverage from UW linebacker Cort Dennison couldn't control a pass on a two-point play from Ryan Katz that would have won the game.

OSU was ranked No. 24 at the time after winning its first two conference games. But the loss to UW helped spearhead a tailspin and OSU ended last season 5-7, a win away from going to a bowl.

"It was a tough loss and kind of a bad turning point for our team," OSU coach Mike Riley said Tuesday. "It could have been a momentum deal for us."

It has been — just in the wrong direction. OSU is 4-12 since losing that night to the Huskies.

And that win proved just as critical in a good way for UW as the Huskies, who finished 6-6 last season and beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, have already clinched bowl eligibility this year.

It's much more than just momentum lost in that split-second a year ago, though, that has turned the Beavers' fortunes.

Receiver James Rodgers, who hurt his knee the week before OSU played UW last year, hasn't been quite the same since. His younger brother, running back Jacquizz Rodgers, left a year early for the NFL after last season.

Without Jacquizz Rodgers, the Beavers have struggled to cobble together a running game, ranking last in the Pac-12 in rushing at 88.2 yards per game. Injuries — especially along the offensive line — have afflicted the team, resulting in 23 OSU players making their first collegiate starts this season, including a record 10 true freshmen.

The team got that much younger when Riley made the surprising decision to bench junior quarterback Ryan Katz in the second game for redshirt freshman Sean Mannion, who has shown some flashes at times — such as a four-touchdown performance in a win over Washington State in Seattle last month — but has also thrown a Pac-12-high 15 interceptions.

Riley pointed Tuesday to missing out on a bowl game last year and not getting the additional 15 practices as a factor in the struggles this year, which brings it all back to the UW game a year ago when he made the fateful decision to go for two after OSU scored to make it 35-34.

Riley admitted he has hashed over the decision to go for it, and the play he called, many times since.

"I rethink that stuff all the time, particularly when they don't work," he said. "You wake up with those for a long time."

On the play, Katz — under pressure — threw it to Halahuni in the end zone after Jacquizz Rodgers motioned out of the backfield. The tight end was open for a second but Dennison crossed into his path at the last minute and the ball bounced off Halahuni's chest.

"I wish I would have made the catch," Halahuni said. "I think I should have. It had nothing to do with what the defender did or where Ryan put the ball. I think I need to make the play in that situation, and I think if it happened all over again I would have made that play."

No structural

damage for Price

UW coach Steve Sarkisian said that an MRI on Keith Price's sprained left knee from the USC game showed no structural damage.

However, he said there was still "some swelling" in the knee and that Price would be assessed over the next few days to see if he can play Saturday. Price suited up for practice and did some drills but did not take snaps in team sessions.

Backup Nick Montana, a redshirt freshman, ran the No. 1 offense during those sessions and will start if Price cannot go.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @bcondotta

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