Time runs out on Ducks

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Sometimes Mighty Mo-men-tum needs a little extra time to complete its journey.

The expanse can be that far and wide.

As Oregon learned the hard way Saturday night.

The No. 4-ranked Ducks roared from far behind only to come up short 38-35 against Southern California in a college football thriller at Autzen Stadium that is sure to be remembered for years in the Pac-12.

For the record, kicker Alejandro Maldonado missed a 37-yard field goal on the game’s final play that would have deadlocked things and ushered in overtime.

The defeat eliminated Oregon from BCS title contention and halted — momentarily at least — its berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game. A win over rival Oregon State in next Saturday’s Civil War changes that. A victory in the subsequent league title game would ensure a Rose Bowl appearance.

In the meantime, troubled Duck minds will be left to ponder what could have been against the No. 18-ranked Trojans.

“This is a game you’ll toss and turn and look back at a lot of different plays,” a somber Oregon coach Chip Kelly said afterwards.

Some will say the Ducks simply ran out of time.

The comeback was so ferocious — Oregon rallied from a 38-14 deficit over a span of 11 minutes, 23 seconds from late in the third to the middle of the fourth — that USC was firmly on its heels when the final Duck drive came to a halt at the Trojan 20 with four seconds left.

Had the Oregon offense had another 30 seconds to work with — equivalent to three or four plays — it’s difficult imagining the Ducks not reaching the end zone.

But if football is a game of inches and seconds, it also is a game of long drives and patience.

And for the longest while Saturday night, the Trojans had their way with the Ducks.

Until late in the third quarter, it was USC that had the look of a national title contender — confident and in charge — and not Oregon.

The Trojans had arrived at a frigid Autzen determined to make a statement and to ease the sting of their bowl ban. They also came in 16-point underdogs after having been blown out by the Ducks the last two seasons.

For most of the middle quarters, the Trojan offense owned the line of scrimmage, allowing quarterback Matt Barkley and his top-flight receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods to play jump ball at the Ducks’ expense.

For Oregon’s freshmen defensive backs — Terrance Mitchell, Troy Hill and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu  — it was a rude awakening. Just a week earlier, they had solved the puzzle of Stanford QB Andrew Luck, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. A week before that, they had put the clamps down on UW signal caller Keith Price. Earlier, they had neutralized ASU’s Brock Osweiler.

Unlike those other top Pac-12 quarterbacks, though, Barkley picked the Ducks clean.

(Note to Heisman voters: You might want to take a second look at the guy wearing No. 7.)

Through three quarters, Barkley had four touchdowns through the air. He would finish 26-for-34 for 323 yards.

“He’s the top quarterback that we’ve faced this year in a game situation,” said Kelly, who lost for the first time as a head coach in Autzen.

Defensively, the Trojans were putting enough heat on Duck quarterback Darron Thomas and enough sure tackles on LaMichael James to keep Oregon’s prolific offense in a funk.

Still, it could have been — should have been — a closer contest through three quarters. Two turnovers in particular hurt Oregon: A fumble by De’Anthony Thomas early in the first quarter with Oregon on the USC 20 and another fumble by LaMichael James on the Trojan 9 just before the end of the first half.

The visitors would need every last break and point they could muster.

There would be no quit in these Ducks.

The comeback began with De’Anthony Thomas ‘ scintillating 96-yard kickoff return for a TD. It gained more traction behind Kenjon Barner’s darting runs and TD; and then an interception of a Barkley pass by safety John Boyett, a fly-paper catch by tight end David Paulson, and a score by James.

With seven minutes remaining, what had looked to be a runaway Trojan victory had turned into a white-knuckle affair worthy of the near freezing temperatures.

Autzen was rocking and rolling.

But USC would answer — as it had for much of the evening. It marched 61 yards, eating up four minutes of the clock, behind Barkley’s arm and Curtis McNeal’s legs. The drive would end with a fumble by Marc Tyler just 11 yards from the end zone. But ultimately it served its purpose. It had kept the Ducks’ hot offense off the field and left them with not much time to travel a sizable distance and complete their rally.

As he has over and over in his career, Darron Thomas promptly led the Ducks down the field. But the increasingly weary Trojan side did just enough to keep Oregon 20 yards from pay dirt and to force the Ducks to go for the tie.

When Maldonaldo pulled the kick to the left, many of the Oregon faithful stood in silence, unable to budge from their seats.

When Mighty Mo runs out of time, squashing the dreams of many, it can take awhile to comprehend.

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