Coming off a 7-5 season and their first trip to a bowl game in 35 years, the expectations for the Beavers of Oregon State was building in Corvallis as Dennis Erikson lead them into the 2000 football season. Led by a dynamic backfield pairing of all-time great Beaver running back Ken Simonton and future OSU Head Football coach Jonathan Smith, coupled with a rapidly improving Beaver defense the coming season looked promising, but nobody could’ve imagined what was yet to come.
The Beavers opened their season at Reeser Stadium on September 2nd when Eastern Washington University came to town. Entering the games as heavy favorites over the Eagles, members of the FCS Big Sky Conference, the Beavers got off to a slow start to the game in front of their home crowd, entering halftime with a 7-3 lead. In a classic old-school football game, the Beavers relied on their workhorse Ken Simonton and the big guys up front to grind away at the Eagles Defense, amassing 200 yards on the ground for the day. The Beavers offense demonstrated the struggles that come with early-season games, turning the ball over 4 times and creating favorable field positions for the Eagles. The defense was able to prevail, holding EWU to 19 points on the day and 197 yards of total offense. A 14-yard rushing touchdown from Simonton with 4:26 to play, his third of the day, proved to be the difference as OSU held on for a 21-19 victory, marking their 4th consecutive season with an opening day win. The game will be most notably remembered as the game that Ken Simonton became the school’s all-time leading rusher only one game into his Junior Season.
The following week the Beavers ventured down to Albuquerque, New Mexico to pay a visit to the New Mexico Lobos, one of only 4 road games on the schedule. UNM was led by former Beavers Defensive Coordinator Ricky Long, who was in his third season of rebuilding the Lobos football program as Head Coach. Following suit to the week before, the Beavers offense struggled, yet their defense flourished. The Lobos held a 20-14 lead at halftime after capitalizing on a blocked punt for a touchdown and using a short field to tack on another. A 32-yard interception returned for a touchdown by defensive end Ladairis Jackson in the second quarter kept the game within reach for the Beavers and a steady diet of Ken Simonton in the second half allowed OSU to prevail to a 28-20 victory. Simonton finished with 182 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground, and quarterback Jonathan Smith added another touchdown pass to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The defense imposed their will in the second half, holding the Lobos to 2 first downs and 0-13 on third down in the second half leading the Beavers to a 2-0 start to the season.
Following a bye week, the Beavers were poised to play in their last non-conference game of the season, hosting the San Diego State Aztecs. With an additional week of practice in the books, the Beavers aimed to get their offense on track but were again faced with a slow start and a 3-0 deficit after 1 quarter of play. However, the offense ignited in the second quarter after a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jonathan Smith to Junior College transfer and future first-round draft pick Chad Johnson. The Beavers tacked on an additional 2 touchdowns in the quarter with a fumble recovery by linebacker Nick Barnett and a 2-yard rush from Simonton. The defense went on to pitch a shutout in the second half of play, as pressure from Richard Seigler and Delawrence Grant served as a catalyst leading to 4 sacks from the pair and forcing the opposing quarterback to throw 4 interceptions leading to a 35-3 route.
After 3 non-conference opponents to begin the season, the Beavers were faced with their first true test of the year as #8 USC came to town. The Beavers hadn’t beat the Trojans since 1967 and needed a victory to cement themselves as contenders for the Pac-10 title. After a back and forth first half, and a couple of touchdowns from Chad Johnson and Ken Simonton, the two teams found themselves deadlocked at 14-14 at the intermission. Following a scoreless third quarter, the Beavers were 15 minutes and a few plays away from a monumental upset. The Beavers opened up the scoring in the 4th quarter with a 2-yard touchdown run from Simonton, his second of the game, and quickly followed it up with a Ryan Cesca 41-yard Field Goal 3 minutes later, providing them a 10-point advantage. The Trojans refused to roll over, adding a touchdown of their own with 2 minutes to play, but Simonton struck again, this time from 36 yards to ice the game and give the Beavers their first 4-0 start since 1957. A day in which the Beavers performed in all facets of the game, the offense put up 31 points and the defense picked off future Heisman winner and NFL quarterback Carson Palmer 3 times, Oregon State was victorious. Terrance Carroll served as a defensive catalyst all afternoon for the Beavers, recording 9 total tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception returned for 75 yards. Simonton finished the day with 234 yards and 3 touchdowns, marking the most rushing yards the USC Trojans had allowed since the 1996 season.
Following the win over USC, the Beavers entered the following week ranked #23 nationally for the first time since the end of the 1968 season. OSU was faced to square off with the #13 University of Washington Huskies, a team who handed them their worst loss of the season a year ago, losing by 26 points. 73,145 were in attendance in Seattle to witness the top 25 matchup and the fans would not be disappointed. A back and forth first half led to a 6 point advantage for the Huskies at the break, a lead that they would quickly lose as Jonathan Smith connected with T.J. Houshmandzadeh on an 11-yard touchdown strike to retake the lead at 21-20 in the third quarter. Yet the Huskies demonstrated why they were deserving of the #13 ranking, as they rattled off two touchdowns in the 4th quarter to take a commanding lead. But the Beavers weren’t out of it yet, with 7:22 remaining Jonathan Smith hit Chad Johnson down the field for an 80-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 3. The defense was able to hold off UW and give the ball back to the offense who marched down the field with the time winding down setting up Kicker Ryan Cesca for 46 yards with 14 seconds remaining. But the kick sailed wide right and the Huskies remained undefeated as the Beavers fell to 4-1. It was a career day for OSU quarterback Jonathan Smith, racking up 314 yards and 3 touchdowns in the defeat, and a day to forget for the defense, surrendering 504 total yards.
In the week to follow the Beavers maintained their #23 ranking despite the loss, demonstrating the national respect for UW, and consequently for the Beavers for the game they played against them. The Beavers refused to let the loss define their season and rebounded strongly against the Stanford Cardinal with a resounding 38-6 victory. The offense recorded an impressive 471 total yards, and Smith followed up his previous performance with another game of over 300 yards passing and 2 touchdowns, one of which went for 97 yards to Chad Johnson, an Oregon State Football record. The defense bounced back strongly, led by Darnell Robinson with 11 total tackles they totaled 2 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery. Ryan Cesca also responded to a disappointing previous week by hitting a 49-yard Field Goal, the longest of his career.
Back in the win column, the Beavers hit the road to take on #23 UCLA while boasting a #19 ranking of their own. Aiming to sweep the Los Angeles schools for the first time ever in a single season, the Beavers were in for a dog fight. Another gritty back and forth Pac-10 match up resulted in a game down to the wire, requiring a 23 point 4th quarter effort to pull out the win 44-38. Smith continued his hot hand, eclipsing the 300-yard mark for the 3rd game in a row to go with 4 touchdown passes, each to a different receiver (Johnson, Houshmandzadeh, Prescott, Maurer). Simonton reached his usual 100-yard mark and was partnered with fellow running back Patrick McCall who ran for 146 yards and a 66-yard touchdown with 1:52 to put the game away. The Beavers were now 6-1 heading into the back half of their Pac-10 schedule.
In a coveted season of Pac-10 play, the Beavers faced yet another ranked opponent, this time in #18 Washington State. The previous 3 of their 4 last games had been nail biters down to the wire, but this ranked match-up would not follow in a similar fashion. Oregon State came out swinging and hit early and often, leading to a 39-9 romping of the Cougars. The team reverted back to its DNA and came out with an explosive running game and swarming defense. WSU quarterback Jason Gesser entered the game as the Pac-10 leading passer, but the Beavers defense enforced their will, holding him to 104 yards and forcing 2 interceptions. The offense rushed for 267 yards, 169 of which came from Ken Simonton. Simonton finished the contest with 2 touchdowns and became the first player in Pac-10 history to rush for 1,000+ yards in their Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior seasons.
In the weeks leading up to the most highly anticipated civil war matchup in the history of the state, OSU faced a trap game in unranked California. The #14 Beavers visited Berkeley in pursuit of their first 8-1 start ever but wouldn’t find it to come easily. The Golden Bears had a late-season resurgence, beating USC and UCLA in the two previous weeks, and were riding a hot streak into the matchup. Coming off a historic week, Simonton opened the game in typical fashion, with 2 rushing touchdowns on the Beavers opening two drives. The Bears hung around, ensuing in a 21-12 halftime lead for the Beavers, before tacking on 3 more points in the 3rd quarter to cut the deficit to one possession. But the balanced rushing attack between Simonton and McCall proved to be too much in the 4th quarter, and the Beavers hung on to escape with a 38-32 road victory.
The final obstacle before squaring off against Oregon, the #10 Beavers faced the University of Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, Arizona. Another balanced attack on offense, Smith went 12-21 in the first half, connecting with Johnson 6 times for 106 yards and a touchdown. Throughout the course of the game, Simonton and McCall combined for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns and the defense recorded 6 sacks, 3 of which came from Ladairis Smith en route to a 33-9 victory and setting up a top 10 matchup between the Beavers and the Ducks.
November 18th, 2000, the #8 Oregon State Beavers hosted the #5 Oregon Ducks in the most anticipated Civil War in the history of the rivalry. With the Pac-10 title on the line, a win for the Ducks meant a trip to the Rose Bowl, and a win for the Beavers paired with a loss from the University of Washington in the Apple Cup meant the Beavers were headed to Pasadena. Jonathan Smith got the ball rolling early for the Beavs, connecting on touchdown passes of 31 and 49 yards in the first quarter, both to Robert Prescott. Ryan Cesca added a field goal in the second quarter to take a commanding 17-0 lead in the game. A Joey Harrington touchdown run midway through the second quarter cut the lead heading into halftime, but Ken Simonton ran for a touchdown of his own in the third quarter to assert a commanding 23-7 lead heading into the final quarter of play. Oregon was able to cut the lead after a 1-yard touchdown to open the fourth, but a failed two-point conversation left the score at 23-13, which would be the final. Defensive Back Jake Cookus was making only his second start of the season in the showdown against the Ducks and proved the decision to be a good one as he recorded 3 of the Beavers 5 interceptions and went on to be named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week. The conclusion of the Civil War wrapped up the Beavers season at an impressive 10-1, the first time in program history. But ultimately their Rose Bowl hopes were dashed as UW beat WSU and earned the right to play in the Granddaddy of them all.
Despite the Beavers missing out on the Rose Bowl, as the #5 team in the nation OSU earned a bid to the Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 2001, against the #10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. On gameday, Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona hosted 75,428 fans, the bowl’s third-largest crowd in history. A highly anticipated matchup, the first half played out slow, highlighted by a 74 yard Chad Johnson touchdown, and the Beavers took a 9-3 lead into the locker room. But at the start of the third quarter, the Beavers took full control and never looked back. The Beavers rifled off 29 consecutive points, starting with a T.J. Houshmandzadeh 29-yard touchdown catch, followed by a 45 yard Terrell Roberts punt return for a touchdown, another touchdown reception for Johnson, and capped by a 4-yard rushing touchdown from Simonton. In total, the Beaver offense tallied 445 yards while holding ND to a staggering 155. In the post-game awards ceremonies, Linebacker Darnell Robinson was presented with the Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP award for his forced fumble and interception, both of which led to OSU touchdowns. Quarterback Jonathan Smith received Offensive MVP Honors for his 305 yards and 3 touchdown passes. On a relatively quiet night by Simonton’s standards, he posted 85 yards and 1 touchdown on 18 carries. But more importantly, he broke his own OSU single season rushing record as he finished the year with 1,559 yards on the ground.
Undoubtedly the greatest single season in Oregon State Football history, the Beavers finished the season at 11-1 with a Fiesta Bowl Championship and 5 wins over ranked opponents.
Following their monumental victory over Notre Dame, many of the media members proclaimed OSU as the best team in college football for the 2000-01 football season where they finished #4 in the rankings. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 11-1 Beavers of Oregon State, we have yet to see a season mirror their success, but the blueprint remains, and the Beaver loyalists stand tall.
This post is the second in a series contributed by SCARC Student Archivist Greyson Wolff, a senior Business Administration student who has worked in SCARC since August of 2019.