Every win is a good win, but there a few in recent memory that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Some particular characteristic that made the victory extra special, extra satisfying. A few games that bring a smile to your face whenever you remember them.
Many others have made such lists about the Ducks, but this article will look a little deeper, past the obvious, past just rivalries and seek to identify the sweetest wins since 2008 and why they are so.
The first was the Civil War game in 2008. Oregon State was ranked N0. 17; Oregon, No. 19. With a win the Beavers would go to the Rose Bowl, their first trip there since 1965.
The game was at Reeser Stadium, and Oregon was on a two-game win streak while Oregon State had a six-game winning streak (nearly a nine-game streak after a three-point loss to Utah) in their pocket.
Needless to say, they were confident — they were at home, and they had pretty much the highest motivation at the time, a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Oregon had motivation also. First, beat the Beavers. Even the worst year in the history of Oregon football is somewhat tempered by a Civil War win.
Second, a win keeps the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl. So not only do the Ducks have bragging rights for the year, but they get to play foil to their Rose Bowl dreams.
Third, if Oregon wins they get to play in the Holiday Bowl, which at the time was the next best bowl behind the Rose Bowl.
The final score was 65-38 and this was a game of big plays for the Ducks. At one point, freshman quarterback Darron Thomas took a pitch from Jeremiah Masoli and threw it 35-yards to Jeff Maehl, setting up a touchdown.
Jeremiah Johnson, meanwhile, ran 83 yards for a touchdown on 3rd-and-19, giving him 203 rushing yards in the half on only 12 carries, an average of 16.9 yards per carry!
Combined with Masoli and LaGarrette Blount, the Ducks rang up 442 yards of offense in just the first half.
Terence Scott caught a 76-yard touchdown pass from Masoli and linebacker Spencer Paysinger returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown. This was not just a loss for the Beavs, it was a soul-crushing, Rose Bowl-denying beat down.
Then offensive coordinator Chip Kelly let the press know exactly how he felt: “We didn’t have a shot in this game. All you guys thought they were going to the Rose Bowl.” The Ducks ended up with 694 yards of total offense.
Receiver Jaison Williams summed it up well: “To go out and ruin somebody’s dreams like that, it feels real good.”
The second sweet game came in 2009 against Arizona.
The game was played in Tuscon and was a back-and-forth battle all night. The Ducks found themselves down late until one of Oregon’s greatest comebacks ensued.
The Ducks led 14-10 at the half but were outscored for the next 26 minutes 21-10, putting Arizona up late, 31-24 and essentially running out the clock — until the improbable happened.
The Ducks intercepted a Nick Foles pass in the end zone, giving the Ducks the ball on their 20 yard line with a little over three minutes left, 3:11 to be precise.
If you weren’t a Duck fan yet or you simply don’t remember, the Arizona fans came out of the stands and ringed the field, anticipating the win and the opportunity to rush the field.
Along came a man named Masoli. Having been intercepted twice in the game and fumbling once, Masoli led the team on a 15-play, 3:05-minute scoring drive on a pass to Ed Dickson.
If you did the math just now, then you realize that yes, we scored and tied the game with just six seconds left. I smiled when I just typed that, because I remember how I felt when I watched it happen.
I remember that after the great drive and great score, the extra point snap to Nate Costa was low and was fumbled, and the ball was barely placed before the Ducks kicked the extra point.
Yes, they came that close to losing on a botched extra point. If you need to sigh, it’s okay. If you need to remember, watch below.
So then the Ducks went into the first overtime and traded touchdowns. In the second overtime, Arizona got the ball first and the Ducks held them to a field goal. Then on Oregon’s first play, Masoli hit Dickson on a wheel route for 22 yards. Two plays later, he calmly kept it on the read option and sorta bumped his way into the end zone like it was nothing.
After the game when asked about the Arizona fans lining the field, Masoli said, “I saw it and I actually smirked. It was kind of funny. I wasn’t really worried about it.” Gotta give it to Masoli, he was pretty cool under pressure throughout the 2009 regular season.
The third sweetest win was the Civil War game again, also in 2009 (it was a pretty great regular season, okay?). The Rose Bowl was once again on the line. Only this time both teams were playing for the Rose Bowl.
The winner would be Pac-10 champions and earn a Rose Bowl berth. This was the original “win and in” game for the Ducks (the second being the first playoff game last year). Oregon came into the game at 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the Pac-10. Meanwhile, OSU was 8-3 overall and 6-2 in conference play.
Unlike the previous year when Oregon was up 37-10 at halftime, this game was hotly contested throughout, with OSU up 23-21 at the half.
It came down to Oregon completing two fourth downs late in the fourth quarter. Sorry Corvallis, instead of the Rose Bowl you got the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl where you lost to BYU, 42-20.
The reason this game was so sweet (besides crushing OSU’s dreams again) was because of what the Ducks had to overcome just to get there.
A new head coach, a loss to Boise State, the suspension of Blount, followed by two very tough wins against Purdue and Utah. The entire season felt like an uphill battle, even if they had already won nine games coming into the Civil War.
Losing that first game in the fashion they did and having 52 dropped on them by Stanford mid-season, the Ducks felt like underdogs and played like underdogs all season, even though they dominated most of their games.
So this win was sweet because it represented the last hurdle — beat the Beavers and make it to the promised land. Sometimes it is about the journey. But it’s more about what a team overcomes to get where they are going. A successful season forged on the anvil of adversity.
The fourth ‘sweet game’ was not until 2011. I skipped 2010, because in the context of a 12-0 regular season it’s hard to point to a single extra-sweet game. Sure, it was great to watch Oregon put up 53 on USC in L.A., as LaMichael James put up 239 yards and scored three touchdowns.
That felt good, but it doesn’t match the three previous games, nor games in several seasons after. The Ducks were on top of the conference and they knew it and they acted like it. Beating USC on their turf that year felt, well, inevitable.
No, the fourth sweet game wasn’t until January 2, 2012.
The 2011 season started with a loss to LSU. Too many injuries and turnovers doomed them. But they then reeled off nine straight wins until losing to USC, 38-35, in mid-November (great comebacks are only great comebacks if you actually win, see sweet win #3 above).
They had two more regular season games and won both, and the first Pac-12 Championship, and made it back to the Rose Bowl.
Although the Ducks made the Rose Bowl in 1994 and 2009, they hadn’t won a Rose Bowl since like before the Industrial Revolution — okay, not that far back — but 95 years.
That’s a long time, so long that pretty much nobody on the planet was even alive the last time Oregon won a Rose Bowl. They’d also lost the last two post-season games, the 2009 Rose Bowl and the 2010 National Championship.
They’d made it to the mountain top, but they hadn’t yet won at the top.
And they weren’t playing against a mediocre team that backed its way into the Rose Bowl or reached it due to some BCS fluke. No, they were playing big bad Wisconsin, led by fifth-year senior transfer Russell Wilson.
Like 40,000 or so other Duck fans, I watched the game live and the setting — nestled in the hillocks of Pasadena, stealth jet flyover during pregame – was surreal. The collective feeling was that this was the Ducks’ year.
This game was akin to two decorated fighters with very different styles trading blows.
Wisconsin was all play action, and it worked. Oregon was all speed and misdirection, and it worked. De’Anthony Thomas averaged 77.5 yards per carry – on two runs — which both went for touchdowns.
It was 28-28 at the half and it really just felt as if the teams were getting warmed up.
In these types of games it invariably comes down to turnovers, and it did – Kiko Alonso with his amazing interception, Terrence Mitchell with his strip and Michael Clay with his recovery.
And don’t forget the turnover on downs at the five-minute mark of the second quarter with Wisconsin on the Oregon 20-yard line.
The prevent defense at the end was giving Oregon fans heart attacks, because it wasn’t actually preventing anything. Wisconsin head coach Bret Beliema’s throwing away of a timeout earlier in the half came back to haunt him as his team simply ran out of time. Turns out you can’t spike the ball with two seconds left.
“After further review, prior to the spiking of the pass, the clock went to zero. The game is over.”
Sweeter words a Duck fan hath never heard from a referee. A lot of Duck fans stayed for a long time to savor this win, the Ducks’ first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years. After making it to the top of the college football landscape the previous two years, Oregon finally ended the season with a win. So sweet!
The fifth game was the 2014 Rose Bowl against Florida State and Jameis Winston.
Half way through the third quarter, the game took a turn like few have seen before and few will ever see again. It was comical. It literally could not have gone better for Oregon.
It was someone’s fantasy half for Oregon football.
I tried and failed to come up with a metaphor to describe what happened next. Oregon scored 34 unanswered points. Thirty-four!
Florida State had turnovers on four straight possessions! FOUR! It was truly unbelievable. And not just turnovers, but turnovers the Ducks turned into points immediately.
This had to be the most devastating half of football in the history of Florida State football. Turnover, touchdown. Turnover, touchdown. Turnover, touchdown. Turnover, touchdown. Devastating. Implosive. One offense scoring at will, the other dissolving into pure comedy.
In retrospect this was the Ducks’ championship game, the pinnacle of the season.
They won the conference, having overcome too many injuries to list, destroyed the 2014 season’s poster boy for the most hated program, and did it at the Rose Bowl in stunning fashion.
This last of the top five sweetest wins in recent Oregon history was perhaps the sweetest of them all.
Top photo from video