Decade ago: Cal No Match for Oregon’s Fiesta Bowl Run
Exactly a decade ago to date, Oregon travelled to Berkeley to take on the California Golden Bears on a warm 78 degree afternoon in Strawberry Canyon. The high-flying #5 Ducks were 5-0 and coming off a huge win at Arizona, while the deflated Bears were sitting at the cellar of the Pac-10 at 0-5 and just looking for a win.
On a beautiful fall afternoon in Berkeley, the Ducks opened firing on all cylinders from the start. Cal took the opening kickoff, but went three-and-out to punt and give Oregon good field position at their own 45. Maurice Morris carried twice to get the Ducks into Bear territory and a fresh set of downs. Harrington would throw a perfect strike to Jason Willis at the Bear 27 for a first down; followed by another Harrington-to-Willis connection down the center with Willis leaping to make a terrific catch at the Bear three yard-line. Two plays later, Harrington would slide in behind his best friend and veteran leader, Left Guard Ryan Schmid for the first score. 7-0, Oregon, less than five minutes into the game. The defense prevented any gains by the Bears, and the Ducks would soon get the ball back around their own 45 again following a terrible punt. The legendary Maurice Morris carried the ball again to move the Ducks beyond midfield and into Bear territory. On second down from the Oregon 37, Harrington threw a perfect strike to Samie Parker at the 20, who would then break two tackles and use his speed the rest of the way to break free into the end zone for the score. 14-0, Oregon. Following the kickoff, things went wrong for California on their very first play from scrimmage. A Kyle Boller pass right to a receiver was tipped by the open receiver, and grabbed right out of the air by Oregon’s Keith Lewis for the game’s first turnover. Lewis gave the Ducks great field position, returning the interception to the Bear 25. Runs by Onterrio Smith and Maurrice Morris gradually pushed the Ducks closer to pay-dirt and within the red zone. From the one yard-line, Onterrio Smith swept to the left and walked into the end zone for the score. 21-0, Oregon to end the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Oregon had to punt, one of only five times all game. However, Cal fumbled the ball right back only three plays later at their own 40. After a few plays, Oregon was penalized back to midfield. Harrington would be hit to cough up the ball and give the Bears possession at midfield. Cal would show how bad they were, failing to move the ball at all, and twice throwing towards an empty end zone to be forced to punt again. Neither team managed any points after a few drives, until late in the second quarter when Cal fumbled a punt return at their own 20. Four plays later, Harrington would roll right and find Justin Peelle for a 16 yard touchdown reception. 28-0, Oregon at halftime.
Though Oregon held a comfortable four-touchdown lead, no true Duck at heart was comfortable. Any true Duck knew the history of Oregon relinquishing leads at Memorial Stadium! In 1993, the second-largest NCAA comeback in history took place as Oregon’s 30-0 half-time lead was blown when Cal managed 42 second-half points for a 42-41 victory. In 1999, Oregon narrowly escaped disaster as its 24-0 lead in the first half became 24-19; saved when a trick play for a potential game-winning touchdown was read by Oregon’s Brian Johnson who intercepted the ball in the end zone to secure the narrow victory! Though most Ducks were not worried about this Bear team at its worst record in years, the bad memories remained in the back of every Ducks’ mind!
The 2001 Oregon squad would not even come close to allowing a comeback and just kept pounding away in the second half. From the Oregon 30, Joey Harrington went back to throw the ball. After finding no receiver, Harrington saw a hole, kept the ball, raced downfield for a first down, passed midfield, passed the California 30, and out of bounds at the California 21 for his longest run of his career for 61 yards to prove his Heisman candidacy a legitimate argument. Several plays later, Morris would break tackles again and break free into the end zone from 13 yards out for another Oregon touchdown. 35-0, Oregon. Another California three-and-out forced another Cal punt. Oregon immediately took advantage of its next drive from the 20. After a few runs moved the ball to the 30; Onterrio Smith broke free into the secondary, beyond mid-field, and all the way down to the California 25. On the very next play, Oregon faked Cal out on a double-reverse play. Harrington pitched to Morris going left, who immediately handed to Howry on an end-around run. Howry broke a tackle, got a great block from Harrington, and Howry’s speed did the rest by running down the sidelines for a rare-seen 25 yard touchdown run by the renowned receiver/kick returner. 42-0, Oregon to end the third quarter.
Oregon would fumble deep in their own territory in the fourth quarter, leading to the only Bear score of the game. 42-7, Oregon. Oregon Freshman Safety Marley Tucker came in as a reserve and made two interceptions in the fourth quarter to begin a terrific career as a Duck. Oregon’s backup Quarterback Jason Fife would also come in for “mop-up duties” late in the game. Fife and company marched down field one last time for Oregon, as Fife threw a screen pass to Morris who raced into the redzone. Morris finished the job three plays later, breaking up the middle in a very physical run and forcing his way 11 yards and into the end zone for the game’s final points. The point after by Jared Seigel would be blocked, but it would not matter at that point, as Oregon had well-secured a win over the struggling California Bears. 48-7, Oregon; as would stand for the final score.
At 6-0, Oregon was at their best start in history and making a strong case for themselves to be in the race for the national title. California was unable to put together their own offensive drive beyond midfield all game, only scoring on a short-field off an Oregon turnover. Finishing the day with 465 yards of total offense, Oregon was proving all the naysayers wrong and showing that Joey Harrington belonged in the Heisman race, along with the team as a whole belonging in the national polls.