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October 31, 2006

Raju's take from the locker room. Faith pays off.

His Oregon State squad had just been demolished by California, 41-13. Yet, during the post-game press conference, Mike Riley kept stressing how proud he was of the character his team possessed.

At the time his comments seemed a little out of place. After all, the Beavers were flat-out embarrassed by the Golden Bears. Worst of all, they looked listless and heartless in the losing effort. So where was the emotion and frustration? You had to wonder if Riley had lost the team.

But he refused to play the blame game or point fingers. Rather, he stood behind his players and remained optimistic that the Beavers could turn around their season. Simply put, his faith never wavered, especially in his players. And sure enough, the team improved week by week.

On Saturday, things came full circle as the Beavers upset No. 3 Southern California at Reser Stadium. In doing so, the Beavers snapped USC's 27 game Pac-10 winning streak. And they did it without their best player, Yvenson Bernard.

That's because the Beavers refused to give up. Not then, not now. They never quit believing. Even when the "FireMikeRiley.com" web site was launched and the student section began harping on Matt Moore.

The team's resolve was never so apparent than in the fourth quarter on Saturday when the Trojans came storming back from a 33-10 deficit. It stood tall and made the plays when it mattered most. Jeff Van Orsow going all out to tip away John David Booty's pass on that crucial two-point conversion says it all.

Simply put, Riley's faith in his players paid off, because they never stopped believing in him too. And they rewarded their oft-criticized coach with the biggest win of his coaching career on Saturday. As he met with the media after the game, the smile on his face lit up the room.

That tells you just how far the Beavers have come since the Cal game five weeks ago. They have now won three straight Pac-10 games and are slowly moving up in the rankings. Things are finally clicking on both sides of the ball. As a result, the team is confident and that should scare the heck out of the Beavers' remaining opponents. Just ask the Trojans, it's no fun playing a resurgent OSU squad.

Leading the way for the Beavers has been Matt Moore. Surprising isn't it? But in a way, it's only fitting because he's been the most criticized player on the team recently. On Saturday though, he turned in a performance for the ages. Despite being hit often, he hung in the pocket and made pass after pass, en route to completing 21-of-32 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown. More impressively was that Moore played mistake free football for the first time in his OSU career. The last time the Beavers went without a turnover in a game was 2004 Insight Bowl.

Moore's gritty performance should endear himself to Beaver Nation at last. He'll never be Jonathan Smith or even Derek Anderson for that matter, but now he's not only a Husky Killer but a Giant Killer as well. If Beaver Nation finally gets behind Moore, the best could be yet to come from him. And we owe it to him. Don't think for a second that he's not grateful to be here in Corvallis. The first words that came out of his mouth after the USC game at the post game press conference?

"I'm a BEAVER!"

That's the thing, Moore never gave up on Beaver Nation, even when he was being booed. (That's the character Riley was talking about.) Neither did Riley or the rest of the team. That's the wonderful thing about faith. It keeps you believing and hopeful, even during the darkest of times. And if you remain strong, you'll be rewarded. That's what happened to the Beavers on Saturday.

All of a sudden, what looked like a lost season has become a promising one. Don't dwell on the losses and what might have been. Instead, be thankful that the Beavers have gotten to this point. A lot of other teams would have folded by now. With that in mind, this team is starting to resemble the 2004 squad, the one that started out 1-4 and then rebounded to go bowling.

But this time around, the Beavers have a chance to do even better things. With five games left, the sky's the limit. It's not unreasonable to think the Beavers can't win out. After all, is any remaining opponent as strong as the Trojans? It's safe to say there's not. So why not keep flying higher and higher?

However, the Beavers need to be careful they don't get too overconfident now. Who can forget last season and how the Beavers laid a few goose eggs after upsetting Cal in Strawberry Canyon? So this weekend's game against Arizona State will be just as big as the USC game was. A win would keep the momentum going, while a loss would deflate things. Also, it would be nice to beat those pesky Sun Devils, because the Beavers never seem to play well against them.

But have a little faith. The way the Beavers have been playing, especially in wake of Saturday's win, they might just win out the rest of the way. And that's something worth believing in.


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