Ten Year Fiesta Bowl Season Anniversary: Triumph over Utah State
It was Saturday, September 29, 2001. Slightly over ten years ago to date, Oregon traveled to Logan, Utah to conclude its non-conference portion of their season in only their third-ever match against the Utah State Aggies. Oregon came in as the highest ranked visitor to ever play in the history of Romney Stadium, and the Aggies were ready to prove they belonged on the same field as the Ducks. As a home-field advantage, the grass was a little longer than normal, as Utah State had not mowed in several days to slow down the speed of Oregon! What many thought would be an easy game for Oregon was far from a blowout and turned out to be a very exciting game, fun to watch for fans of both teams.
Oregon took the opening kickoff on a warm and clear 75 degree evening. The Aggies were primed and ready to go, proving a very tough opponent for Oregon from the start. The powerful Maurice Morris was met at the line and stuffed by several Aggies. Morris managed a first down on the next play, but Oregon could go no where from there; as the Aggies came from nowhere to stuff Morris on his next two attempts; then to hold Justin Peelle one yard shy of the first down to prevent Oregon’s first third-down conversion of the game and force a punt. Oregon’s defense held Utah State to a three-and-out, but Utah State would then punt and pin the Ducks at their own five yard-line. Oregon managed to get out of the shadow of their end zone, but only to their own 25 before having to punt again. On its next drive, Utah State appeared ready to go, but Oregon’s defense got extra strong when Utah State RB met Kevin Mitchell and Rasuli Webster for an amazing hit to bring up 3rd and 11. On third down, Aggie QB Jose Fuentes rolled back to throw, when Oregon-native Defensive End Seth McEwan swooped around and made a huge sack on Fuentas for a 14 yard loss and force a punt. Oregon could not find a spark on their next drive, being held to three-and-out. On Utah State’s next possession, the Aggies began to find a spark. Fuentes threw from his own 10 yard-line, finding a wide-open receiver who made the catch and raced to midfield. From the Oregon 40, Utah State would convert a fourth down to keep its drive alive and end the first quarter at a scoreless tie, but with Utah State driving the length of the field.
On the first play of the second half, Cornerback Steve Smith (previous week’s Pac-10 MVP) made a terrific pass breakup in the end zone to prevent a touchdown. On second down, the Oregon Defense put pressure on Fuentes and Zack Freiter appeared to have made a sack, but Fuentes barely dropped it off in desperation to their national receptions leader Kevin Curtis, who raced 27 yards into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. 7-0, Utah State.
Many Aggie fans were chanting “OVER RATED”, failing to understand that their team was playing quite well against a very good team and that they were UNDER RATED. Oregon, however, would not allow the momentum to go to the Aggies, responding after the kickoff. Morris ran the ball breaking tackle after tackle, leading the Ducks on four runs for two fist downs, followed by third-and-long conversion when Joey Harrington found Samie Parker at the Utah State 42 to give the Ducks a well-needed spark. On the next third down, the Ducks converted again as Morris ran to the Aggie 24 to already pass the 100 yard mark on the night. The very next play, Harrington rolled back to pass. Fullback Josh Line was wide open on his way down the sidelines, and caught a perfect strike from Harrington as he dashed into the end zone untouched for the score. In only nine plays, Oregon drove 82 yards for the score; and the Jared Seigel PAT split the uprights to tie the game, 7-7.
Utah State’s Kevin Curtis made another huge reception for Utah State on a long pass completion from Fuentes to get into Oregon territory, but Oregon would hold on third down on a terrific pass coverage by Rashad Bauman to prevent a touchdown thrown right to the end zone. Oregon would take over deep in their own territory; with Harrington converting one first down after another thanks to amazing athletic catches by Keenan Howry at the Oregon 30, Jason Willis at the Oregon 30, and Samie Parker around the 20. Onterrio Smith took Oregon to the goal line, and Joey Harrington finished the job by punching it in and take the first lead of the night. 14-7, Oregon.
Keith Lewis would take a lot of wind out of Utah State’s sales for the remainder of the first half by making a huge hit on first down, followed by an interception to give the Ducks the ball back right before the half. Morris would carry the ball for Oregon to move the Ducks forward, but the Ducks were forced to punt. Utah State, pinned in their own territory, would attempt to run out the clock, but were forced to punt with under a minute to play. Keenan Howry, renowned for his punt returns, fielded a deep punt, returning it 30 yards and into Utah State territory. Harrington would find Parker along the sidelines to get Oregon into scoring territory. Jared Seigel (the hero who kicked the winning field goal the week prior against USC) would come on for a career-long 46 yard attempt. The 5,000 foot elevation assisted Seigel, as he made it right down the middle with plenty of yards to spare, and gave the Ducks a ten-point advantage into the half. 17-7, Oregon.
Utah State came out on fire to begin the second half to begin a back and forth battle. The kickoff was returned out of the end zone and beyond the 20 yard-line to the 26. Fuentes came out firing on all cylinders, finding the hot former walk-on Kevin Curtis again breaking tackles for a fresh set of downs; proving why he led the nation in receiving yards. Several first down runs and receptions led Utah State inside the Oregon 25 yard-line. On first down from the Oregon 25, a trick play fooled Oregon. Fuentes threw to Curtis on the sideline; but Curtis was behind the line and eligible to throw the ball. White did just that, completing the ball to Emmett White inside the three yard-line. On the very next play, Utah State’s Kevin White rushed into the end zone for the score to cut the Oregon lead to three, scoring by going the length of the field on their first drive of the second half. 17-14, Oregon.
However, Harrington and company were not about to be any less rough than Utah State’s offense; immediately answering. Morris had two big runs and Harrington completed two passes to Freshman Keith Allen to get Oregon into Utah State Territory. Onterrio Smith had a big run to the Utah State 27; when on the very next play, Harrington found a wide-open Justin Peelle down the sidelines, into the end zone for the score to give Oregon back a ten-point cushion and Peelle’s FIFTH touchdown of the season. 24-14, Oregon.
On Utah State’s next possession, the Aggies were at midfield and faced a 4th and 1. Kevin Mitchell made a terrific hit on Curtis White behind the first down marker, but the refs gave White a generous spot for the first down. Fuentes would strike for two first downs, and lead the Aggies into the red zone. Several plays later, Fuentas found receiver Gary Coleman in the end zone for the score to complete a response of their own to pull within three points again. 24-21, Oregon, nearing the end of the third.
Oregon then appeared to be in trouble. Following the kickoff, Oregon went three-and-out deep in their own territory; followed by a shanker punt by Jose Arroyo, giving Utah State at the Oregon 36. The fans’ intensity level was sky-high, and the momentum was on Utah State’s side as the third quarter ended. As the fourth quarter began, Oregon would get a few big breaks. Rashad Bauman made a terrific touchdown saving tackle from behind, and two perfect strikes by Fuentes would fall incomplete to force a punt. Oregon took full advantage of its next drive. Onterrio Smith relieved a tired Maurice Morris, rushing with his fresh legs against a tired Utah State defense, beginning to wear down the Aggies in the fourth. Harrington found Keith Allen again at midfield to keep the drive going. Two Smith runs got Oregon nowhere, when Allen came through again for Oregon on a breakthrough night, catching a 15 yard pass from Harrington at the Aggie 20, and breaking tackles down to the five yard-line. Smith would finish the job from there, punching it in on a run up the middle over his blockers and into the end zone to cap a huge response drive–his first touchdown as a Duck. 31-21, Oregon.
With all the momentum on the Oregon side, Fuentes tried to give the Aggies a spark. A completed pass to to midfield gave the Aggies their needed spark, followed by a run for first down by White, and penalty to push the Aggies into the red zone. In the red zone, Oregon Linebacker Garret Graham came through for the Ducks on two consecutive plays. On first down, Graham made a shoestring tackle in the backfield to prevent White from breaking through the line and up the middle for the score. On Second Down, a potential touchdown pass to White deflected and popped up; being hauled in by Graham coming across the middle around the ten. Graham made the pick to save a touchdown, turn a corner, break tackles, and return the ball for the Ducks back the ball at their own 20.
Three plays later, Maurice Morris would break free into the secondary, breaking four tackles and using his speed to do the rest and outrun the defenders to the end zone for the 69 yard touchdown run. 38-21, Oregon.
Morris rushed for 175 yards on the day, and gave the Ducks all the momentum from there. Utah State attempted to mount a comeback, but were unable to do anything from there. Rashad Bauman would break up a potential touchdown pass in the end zone, and Steve Smith would come up with another interception (following three the previous week against USC) in the end zone, giving Oregon the ball back and denying Utah State any points from there on out. The offense would run the clock down with Onterrio Smith runs deep into Utah State territory. Utah State would get the ball one final time, but was too late to mount a comeback. An attempt for statistical-purpose-points only fell short as Kevin Mitchell would make the final interception of the three in fourth quarter of the game, and that would be the end.
Oregon, up against a very determined Utah State team, would prevail and cap off a victory of a great back-and-forth battle. Final Score: Oregon 38, Utah State 21.