A decade ago, the Oregon Ducks took the field against Arizona State on a cool November evening with the national television cameras on hand for the sixth time of the season. Coming off a record-setting victory over Washington State, the Ducks were fired up and would continue their dominance and record-setting against the Sun Devils.
Arizona State was feeling red with revenge for what happened the previous year, a bitter taste remained in the mouth of every returning Sun Devil from stemming from the bizarre circumstances that ended the 2000 matchup, one that sent the two teams in vastly different directions for the remainder of the year. As any loyal Duck knows, Oregon pulled off the most improbable come-from-behind victory in double overtime that season down in the desert at Arizona State, known fondly as the “Desert Miracle.”
Arizona State’s previous trip to Autzen Stadium in 1999 came down to a last-minute touchdown drive, capped by a pass from Joey Harrington to Marshaun Tucker with nine seconds remaining, which earned Harrington the starting job and began an amazing career.
Arizona State QB Jeff Krohn was leading the Pac-10 in total yardage, and came in ready to pick up where he left off the previous year on his record-setting day against the Ducks. At first, Krohn and company appeared ready to give the Ducks a rough night. After the opening kickoff gave ASU great field position, it only took two minutes for the Devils to strike first as Tailback Delvon Flowers broke through the Defensive Line and ran 54 yards untouched all the way for the score. 7-0, Arizona State.
The very same breakaway plays gave Oregon such a hard time the previous year, and initially appeared to be the same that night. Many felt concerned that Oregon would have another back and forth heart-stopping shootout as the previous year. Oregon’s offense took the field for its first series of the evening. George Wrighster was the first to make his presence felt, catching a Harrington pass at midfield and forcing his way for a first down. From midfield, Oregon was unable to match ASU’s flying start and was forced to punt. Just when many thought Krohn would lead another big drive, Krohn got hurt and was taken out. Backup and future star QB Andrew Walter had a rocky start, nervous as can be in his first big game at the loud and powerful Autzen Stadium. After first and second down failed, Walter would slip and fall on Third Down to force a punt. From there, Harrington and company answered. Harrington found Samie Parker on the left, who finished the job running through a big hole run into ASU territory and to the ASU 35. Keenan Howry was then wide open in the end zone, but dropped one of very few passes in his career. He would immediately atone to begin a career night, being wide open at the 20 on the next play. Only two plays later, Howry sprinted in motion across the field, catching a screen pass from Harrington and finding a gap in the middle to race into the end zone untouched. Oregon would score in only seven plays for 57 yards and less than three minutes. 7-7.
Walter had another rough time denting defense and Oregon’s 12th man. Kevin Mitchell stepped in and had a huge hit in the backfield to push ASU backwards, and Walter’s third down conversion failed, forcing another punt. Oregon would begin at midfield. Harrington threw a gamble into traffic and appeared to be intercepted by an ASU defender. However, Howry made the most amazing one-handed catch off the deflection to avoid disaster and give Oregon the ball in ASU territory. Howry then had another terrific catch to get Oregon to the ASU 20; followed by Onterrio Smith making his presence felt by picking up where he left off the week prior. Smith caught a flap pass from Harrington, and had every linemen come his way to create running room. Smith made the most of his linemen blocking aids (all knowing play and running right to block) to sprint into the end zone (capped by a block by receiver Samie Parker) to race into the end zone and give Oregon their first lead of the night. 14-7, Oregon, to end the first quarter.
Krohn would return to begin the second quarter. From midfield, Krohn nearly picked up where he left off with a wide-open receiver downfield. However, the legendary Rashad Bauman never let the Autzen crowd down, coming through as always for Oregon by batting the ball right out of the receiver’s hands to prevent the Devils a chance to begin to repeat the prior year’s shootout. Arizona State would be forced to punt. After an unsuccessful drive, Arizona State got another big chance. Krohn found a wide-open receiver, making a diving catch at the one yardline. It appeared ASU was on the verge of tying the game, when ASU failed to capitalize and faced a third down. On the option, Krohn raced for the end zone. The legendary Wes Mallard came out of nowhere and delivered one of many career big hits to bring Krohn directly down and keep ASU out of the end zone. ASU would settle for a field goal, and Oregon would retain the lead 14-10.
The second quarter ticked on, and both teams would trade possessions off and on to only come up empty. Oregon was very good at getting ASU’s Delvon Flowers in the backfield to prevent any large gains. Oregon would make the most of its final drive of the second half, firing on all cylinders from the get-go. Deep in Oregon territory, Harrington appeared to be in trouble, but took off at full speed to get Oregon a first down. Smith would play a huge role, running for two first downs and getting Oregon to midfield. From midfield, Harrington had another great strike to George Wrighster, carrying several defenders to the 27 yard line. With just over two minutes remaining, Oregon faced 3rd and 6 from the 24. Harrington and Howry would team up again, as Howry beat his defenders down the right sidelines and made the catch at the goal line and into the end zone for the score. 21-10, Oregon. The score would put Harrington at fourth place on Oregon’s all-time list to break Dan Fouts’ career mark. ASU would fail to get anything on their final posession of the half, and Oregon took a 14-point lead into halftime.
Oregon would come out firing on all cylinders in the second half. Oregon received the kickoff, and Harrington immediately went to work with his offense. Onterrio Smith continued his season run at 1,000 yards with a long run to midfield for the first down, followed by a perfect strike right on the money from Harrington to Parker at the ASU 17. Three plays later, Harrington would drop back, pump, and throw right to Keenan Howry in the end zone for his third touchdown reception of the evening. 28-10, Oregon to open the second half and give Oregon all the momentum.
To make matters worse for Arizona State, Krohn would not return. Andrew Walter would not have the same beginner’s luck as Chris Lewis had two weeks earlier for Stanford. Walter had no luck guiding the Sun Devils on their next series. A pass from Walter to the end zone was broken up well by Nickleback Steven Moore to force a long field goal try from midfield. The kick failed, and Oregon immediately took advantage of great field position, nearly ending all hope for Sun Devil faithful. Harrington nearly had a 50 + yard strike to Howry, but barely overthrew. Oregon still managed to move the ball, as Harrington found Jason Willis at the Oregon 30. The Harrington-to-Howry connection was not over yet, as (after penalties moved the ball into the red zone), Harrington would find Howry running right and beating his defender for a terrific catch in the corner of the end zone. In only two minutes, Oregon marched 63 yards in seven plays for Howry’s fourth touchdown of the night. 35-10, Oregon.
Completely deflated, Arizona State attempted a few drives but came up short. Oregon Linebacker Kevin Mitchell would prevent anything big from happening, making a terrific QB sack with ASU in scoring territory, to move ASU out of field goal range to force a punt. The third quarter would end with Oregon dominating, leading 35-10. Early in the fourth quarter, Walter and company appeared to be moving the ball at midfield, when Oregon’s dangerous interception leader Steve Smith came through for Oregon again. Smith would pick off a pass at the Oregon 40 in similar fashion to his leaping inteception the year before against ASU. From there, Harrington and company would put together one final drive to make their statement. Howry would have another first down catch to add to his large numbers and move to midfield, followed by another Smith run for a first down into ASU territory. On 3rd and 8 from the ASU 40, Harrington would find Samie Parker on the right at the 30 for what appeared to be a simple first down. Parker, renowned for his speed capabilities, eluded his first tackler, outraced the second, and broke a third tackle running across the field and raced for the end zone. Parker made it in untouched for the 40 yard reception and gave Harrington his sixth touchdown pass of the evening. 42-10, Oregon.
Arizona State would score two meaningless touchdowns late in the fourth quarter, but only for statistical purposes would it matter to ASU. Onterrio Smith milked the clock with one first down after another until the clock read zero, and Oregon was well on track to the Pac-10 Title/BCS Bowl. As icing on the cake, Washington defeated Stanford earlier in the day, knocking Stanford to a 4-2 conference record and giving the Ducks back control of their own destiny with only two games remaining. The celebration was on, and Oregon had a lot to celebrate. Final Score: Oregon 42, ASU 24.
-Joey Harrington earned co-MVP of the game, throwing for six touchdowns
-Harrington would up his career touchdown mark to 55, and tying his own single-game record of six touchdown passes set the year before, which he still shares with Danny O’Neil and Darron Thomas.
-Harrington had yet another amazing game over Arizona State, who seemed to be a good luck charm opponent during his career
-Harrington moved his record against ASU to 3-0, and earned his first blowout victory after two come-from-behind wins in 1999 and 2000.
-Harrington passed Dan Fouts on evening for 4th place in career touchdowns.
-Keenan Howry also earned co-MVP, having 9 catches, 125 yards, 4 TDs.
-Howry set a new school record for Oregon with four touchdown receptions, while tying the all-time Pac-10 record
-Onterrio Smith rushed for another 100 yard game in place of the injured Maurice Morris, for a total of 152 yards on 35 carries.
-Oregon held Arizona to under 200 yards passing (as opposed to over 500 yards the previous year)
Oregon had little time to enjoy their celebration, having to face a tough UCLA team on the road the following week. With only UCLA and Oregon State remaining, Oregon knew they could win their final two games if they remained focused on both sides of the ball and take it one step at a time. Oregon even had an outside shot at the National Title game, but was guaranteed at least a share of the conference title and to represent the Pac-10 in the Fiesta Bowl if able to win its final two games.