"Quite frankly, it was a bad throw," Mariota said. "Huff made a great catch. I said, 'Thank you, man, that would've looked bad.'"
"It was the best throw he made all year," he said, grinning.
Either way, the No. 13 Ducks came away with a 36-35 victory over Oregon State on Friday night in the 117th edition of the in-state rivalry.
Mariota threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns -- all to Huff, who had nine catches for a season-high 186 yards -- and the Ducks (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) sealed their sixth straight 10-win season. It also was the team's sixth straight victory over the Beavers.
With the Ducks holding a 24-23 lead, the Beavers scored on Sean Mannion's 4-yard pass to Tyler Anderson to pull in front 29-24 early in the fourth quarter. But Oregon answered with Mariota's fourth-and-11 pass to Huff for a 12-yard touchdown, and the Ducks took a 30-29 lead with 7:56 left in the game.
Victor Bolden ran for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 35-30 for the Beavers with 1:38 remaining, but Oregon State's defense couldn't stop the Ducks on their final drive.
"I wasn't trying to press," Mariota said. "I knew these guys in the locker room were going to get open and give me some time."
Mannion passed for 314 yards and two touchdowns for the Beavers (6-6, 4-5), who ended the season on a five-game losing streak, their worst since dropping six straight to conclude the 1997 season.
"I'm extremely, extremely proud of our team," Mannion said. "Despite the loss, no one on our team quit the entire way. I couldn't be prouder to be a member of this team just by the way we fought."
Freshman Thomas Tyner rushed for 140 yards and another score for Oregon, which finished undefeated at home for the first time since 2010.
The Ducks were coming off a deflating 42-16 loss at Arizona last weekend that ended their Pac-12 and national title hopes.
Oregon State is one of nine Pac-12 teams vying for a spot in the seven conference bowl games.
"We'll let everyone else take care of that," Mannion said about where the Beavers might land. "We were trying to win this game today and we come up short, but we're not concerned with all of that. Other people can think about that."
Cooks, one of three finalists for the 2013 Biletnikoff Award for the nation's best college receiver, went into Friday night's game as the nation's top receiver with 141.8 yards a game.
He had 10 catches for 110 yards against the Ducks. With 120 catches this season, he broke Marqise Lee's single-season Pac-12 mark of 119 set in 2012.
Following the interception, the Ducks drove 80 yards on seven plays, capped by De'Anthony Thomas' 5-yard touchdown dash to give Oregon a 7-0 lead. Tyner added a 13-yard scoring run before the first quarter was over.
The Ducks were without Byron Marshall, who injured his ankle in the loss to Arizona last week.
Storm Woods scored on a 2-yard run for the Beavers to make it 14-7. Trevor Romaine added an 18-yard field goal with 2:33 left in the first half. The Beavers got close again before the break, but Mannion's pass to Cooks was fumbled into the end zone for a touchback, and the Beavers came away with nothing.
Mariota had not thrown an interception this season until he had two in the loss to the Wildcats. He had two more interceptions in the first half against the Beavers.
Oregon's sophomore quarterback continued to wear a brace on his left knee. It is believed he injured his knee during the Ducks' victory over UCLA on Oct. 26, and he has worn the brace since.
"You talk about heart and character and toughness -- that's Marcus to a T," coach Mark Helfrich said.
Oregon State pulled in front 20-17 on Romaine's 47-yard field goal to open the second half.
But Oregon woke up, and on the next drive, Mariota took off on a 21-yard carry despite the brace, before finding Huff with a 28-yard touchdown pass to retake the lead.
Ward slipped on the turf on fourth-and-1 on the Oregon 5, and the Beavers missed a key opportunity to go back ahead. But they closed to 24-23 early in the fourth quarter on Romaine's 37-yard field goal.
Matt Wogan missed a 43-yard field goal for the Ducks with 12:49 to go.
Huff, a senior, said his touchdown was all the more special because it came in his final game at Autzen Stadium.
Afterward, the Ducks rushed the field, something that isn't seen often at Autzen because many of the Ducks' wins there in recent years have been routs. Huff got caught up in the celebration.
"Surreal," he said. "I just never imagined my last game at home coming down to that."