WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As Purdue entered its season opener against Oregon State, no one expected it to play perfectly. However, the team was riddled with missed opportunities, bringing the game down to the wire.
Two fourth-quarter touchdown grabs by junior tight end Payne Durham were enough to halt the Beavers, who were looking to earn a comeback victory at Ross-Ade Stadium. In the end, Purdue escaped with a 30-21 victory in front of its home crowd on Saturday.
"That's the sign of a team that cares. That's a sign of a team that wants to play together, lay it on the line," Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said after the game. "I'll go to battle with those guys any day. So, I'm very proud of them. I felt all of our guys played hard. They're some players that played probably every snap. There wasn't as much rotation in certain positions, but we wanted our best players in there."
The Boilermakers opened the game by scoring on an 11-yard touchdown run by fifth-year senior running back Zander Horvath from a wildcat formation. He took a direct snap and darted to the left side of the formation before evading a tackle. Once he did, he had open turf to the end zone, making it a 7-0 game.
Horvath carried the ball 21 times, and led all Purdue runners with 81 yards. But following the early scoring drive, the offense was unable to take advantage of favorable field position.
In the second quarter, the Boilermakers had an opportunity to take control of the game before halftime. On third and 10, junior quarterback Jack Plummer launched a pass to redshirt fifth-year senior Jackson Anthrop, which was originally ruled a touchdown.
Upon further review, Anthrop let the ball hit the ground, and Purdue settled for its second field goal of the first half. The Boilermakers led just 13-7 before heading into the locker room.
But the team didn't hang its hats just yet, especially while holding onto a lead.
"What I think really helped the offense was seeing the defense play really well, and seeing the defense compete" Plummer said. "That kind of got us going, because we were like hey, the defense is balling right now. We've got to put some points up. Because, if we don't then that's on us."
Purdue orchestrated two 10-play drives at the start of the third quarter, but only managed three points to show for it. Its first drive of the second half ended in an interception as the team tried to reach into its bag of tricks on special teams.
After resetting its kicking unit into an unorthodox formation, holder Jack Albers was handed the ball, and he threw a perfect pass to Durham, who appeared to make the catch inside the 10-yard line. Instead, it was wrestled away by an Oregon State defender, resulting in an interception.
"Those are balls that I need to have," Durham said. "Those are plays that I know I can make. But, you know, the guy did make a great play. I was up in the air, had the ball in my hands, he came down, it was kind of up from under. But you know, that's a drop in my book."
As Purdue continuously settled for field goals, Oregon State made a quarterback change in the fourth quarter. In an attempt to mount a come-from-behind surge, redshirt sophomore Chance Nolan came into the game over senior Sam Noyer.
A seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive for the Beavers cut into the Boilermakers' lead, making the game 16-14 with 13:05 left to play. There was still plenty of football to be played, but Brohm's squad was dangerously close to losing its lead.
But with the comeback at its fingertips, Oregon State went for it all on a crucial fourth down with one yard to go. The Beavers challenged junior cornerback Cory Trice down the field, but he swatted the ball away, giving the ball back to Plummer and the offense.
Six plays later, Plummer found Durham for a five-yard touchdown to take a two-score lead, 23-14. But Oregon State responded with its second 75-yard scoring drive of the half, bringing the score back within two points.
With 3:13 remaining in the game, Purdue had already extinguished all of its timeouts. It needed to put together a drive to snatch any hope from Oregon State of taking the lead late in the game.
On third down, the Boilermakers sold a heavy run fake, and when Plummer popped up and darted his eyes down the field, Durham was wide open. An easy pitch and catch went for 50 yards, sealing the game for Purdue with just over two minutes to play.
"We were trying to throw the ball in the flat right there, and they literally just didn't guard him," Plummer said. "Maybe it's because it was third and short, they were thinking run and we had heavy play action on. Sometimes stuff like that happens, they just dropped him."
Plummer added that he knew that if Durham made the catch, the team would win the game. He recorded seven catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. In his first start of the year, Plummer completed 29 of his 41 passes for 313 yards and two scores.
Junior wide receiver David Bell, while never reaching the end zone, led all Boilermakers' receivers with eight catches for 134 yards, putting the offense in position to seal the game down the stretch.
Purdue battled to the very end, earning its first victory of the 2021 season. Next up, the team will prepare for its second nonconference game of the season when it travels to Connecticut next week.