In 1894, the biggest football games were played on the East Coast between a handful of Ivy League teams. A few thousand miles away, in the middle of seemingly endless Oregon farmland, two teams were preparing for their first football game, lacing up their shoes on a field best described as a “cross between a duck pond and a hog wallow.” The “Aggies“ of Oregon Agricultural College (Oregon State University) played host to their cosmopolitan neighbors, the University of Oregon “Lemon-Yellows.”
The Lemon-Yellows lost that first match against the Aggies in Corvallis, 16-0. It was the inaugural Civil War game, now one of the oldest college football rivalries in the United States, and the stage for many memorable moments in Oregon sports history. Throughout the decades, these rivalry games developed a ferocious following and quickly became the must-see event for many Oregonians. Students of each school were quick to give new meaning to the countryside clash, prompting mascot kidnappings (Oregon’s mascot “Puddles” was a live duck at one time), fistfights, deconstructed goal posts, ill-conceived parades, and small-scale riots. On a deeper scale, the game was about toughness, a testament to collegiate pride, sportsmanship, and loyality.
This year marks the 118th Civil War game between the Ducks and Beavers (neither school boasted a football team in 1943-44 due to World War II) and has the makings of another exciting game for the history books. In anticipation of Saturday’s game, here are three unforgettable Civil War moments in more recent Oregon football history.
2001, Fiesta …
In 2001, the Ducks were ranked second in the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls, respectively. The Beavers were the last roadblock at Autzen Stadium, standing in the way between Oregon and an historic season. A victory would wrap up the record-breaking regular season for the Ducks and ensure a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. The Civil War was a tough matchup, with most of the action down in the trenches. Both teams put forth stellar defensive displays, and by the fourth quarter, the Ducks trailed, 6-3.
But the Beavers couldn’t string together enough plays to complete an offensive thought, stalling the drive on their 33-yard line. The punt was received by Oregon sensation, junior Keenan Howry. Howry was a threat to take every ball he touched to the endzone, through the tunnel, and into the parking lot. And he did, running untouched for 70-yards and a touchdown, giving the Ducks a 10-3 lead. This was undoubtedly the turning point of the game and the Webfoots fought off the Beavers to win the game, 17-14. Oregon went on to beat the Colorado Buffaloes in the Fiesta Bowl, finishing as arguably the best team in college football that year, and introducing the nation to a new era of Oregon football.
2005, The Fog Bowl
A fog rolled into Autzen Stadium and sat on the field like an uninvited dinner guest. At times, players and fans couldn’t see the ball, leading the announcer to remark over the bull horn after the opening coin toss, “Somewhere down there, the Ducks will receive.” The Ducks’ 2005 season was the second 10-win season in Oregon history. Starting quarterback, Kellen Clemens, went out with a season ending ankle injury earlier in the year. Coach Mike Bellotti responded by implementing a successful dual threat system with sophomores Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf sharing snaps.
In the Civil War, Dixon completed 12 of 17 pass attempts, throwing for 204 yards and three touchdowns. Coupled with Dixon’s passing were impressive runs by Jonathan Stewart, cutting through the fog and the Beaver’s defensive line like a hot blade. It was Stewart’s 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown opening the second half that previewed what Oregon fans would see from the Ducks’ offense in the years to come. After Stewart’s country mile scamper, the rout was on and the Ducks gave the Beavers a whoopin’ they wouldn’t soon forget, winning 56-14. The Ducks went on to the Holiday Bowl that year to face the Oklahoma Sooners, who edged them out, 17-14.
2013, Electric Huff
After heart-breaking losses to Arizona and Stanford removed Oregon from the national title picture, the 9-2 Ducks ran into Autzen Stadium for the 117th Civil War game with one more task at hand. It was a night game and each team wore fluorescent colors; bright yellows, greens, and oranges spilled onto Rich Brooks Field like an overturned electric fruit cocktail. Indeed, the entire stadium was buzzing in anticipation for the game. All season long, Oregon’s margin of victory was often oceanic, a pitbull-style offense led by Marcus Mariota that refused to stay leashed up. However, this game was close, each team exchanging touchdowns like punches, hoping that each strike would knock the other down for good.
OSU‘s quarterback Sean Mannion had a terrific night, and after a late fourth quarter touchdown by OSU’s Victor Bolden, the Ducks trailed the Beavers 35-30 with a minute and change left on the clock. It was plenty of time for the Ducks to go the length of the field (and back) if they could execute their game plan. The Ducks assembled a drive, bringing them down to the Beaver’s 12-yard line. On second down with 35 seconds left on the clock, Mariota looked to pass. With his initial receiver covered, Mariota rolled left as the pocket collapsed. Suddenly, Mariota threw a dart and a streaking Josh Huff leapt and grabbed Mariota’s laser beam in the endzone. The game winning catch. Huff flew to the ball, body in full aerial extension, fingers outstretched and ready to burst through his gloves.
As he hit the ground with the ball firmly in his hands, the stadium exploded like fireworks, the crowd roaring in awe at the unbelievable individual effort they had just witnessed. The Civil War victory gave the Ducks their 10th win and a date with Texas in the Alamo Bowl. While it wasn’t exactly what many of fans and players had in mind, the 2013 season was an incredible accomplishment obtained through countless feats of athleticism and mental sharpness.
With 117 games played, there are plenty just as dramatic throughout the decades of this entertaining and classic football rivalry. This year, the 10-1 Oregon Ducks are firmly seated at number two in the College Football Playoff. Everything is in place for a magical year. The city of Eugene is humming that this is the year to win it all. The Ducks control their destiny as the regular season comes to a close. Besides the Pac-12 Championship Game, the road to the national title game has one more stop before they get there: Corvallis.
Top Photo by John Giustina