Let’s just say it Duck fans: This last month has sucked!
The outbreak of the COVID-19 Virus has altered life has we know it. Schools are closed for the year, work is cancelled and simply living a normal life seems like a distant memory. But rather than dwelling on the present, let us reminisce on the past. Specifically, I want to take a deep dive, one that involves reliving the four best Duck games in the past five years.
The Battle at the Barn 2015
The first game that stands out occurred in 2015, the season following Marcus Mariota’s departure to the NFL. As they do every fall, Oregon geared up to play Stanford in a regular season matchup in which both teams were in contention for the Pac-12 North title. Oregon arrived in Palo Alto with a respectable record of 6-3; however, they currently were red-hot, riding a three-game winning streak and were playing their best football of the season. Much of the credit was due to the recent health and success of graduate transfer quarterback, Vernon Adams Jr. As an athletic, dual-threat quarterback, he seamlessly fit into the Oregon offense and was a successful replacement to Mariota.
As for Stanford, they came into the game ranked #7 overall with a record of 8-1. After losing their season opener to Northwestern, Stanford won eight straight games including multiple 30-point blowouts to Pac-12 teams such as Colorado and UCLA. Catalyzed by future NFL quarterback Kevin Hogan and Heisman finalist Christian McCaffery, Stanford had their eyes set on a potential CFB Playoff berth.
Through three quarters, Oregon had a commanding 35-23 lead. It looked as if the game was in the balance but after a Duck three an out, the Cardinal marched down the field and finished the drive with a Kevin Hogan touchdown pass, knotting the score to 35-30.
Oregon followed the Stanford touchdown with a lackluster three-and-out; however, luckily for the Ducks, Stanford quarterback, Kevin Hogan fumbled the snap and Oregon was able to recover. The Ducks managed to string together a few passes and settled for a field goal, putting the score at 38-30.
Although the game already seemed exciting, it’s what occurred in the last three minutes that makes it memorable. Needing a touchdown and an extra point, Stanford marched down with a purpose. Instead of a Stanford score, Hogan again fumbled the ball on the Oregon 15-yard line and the Ducks recovered.
Stanford managed to force Oregon to punt from their own endzone and then a McCaffery punt return set Stanford up in a descent position to score. With four seconds left, Hogan threw a four-yard touchdown to Greg Taboada. Still needing the two-point conversion, the Cardinal drew up a slant across the middle and Hogan got a strong throw off; however, senior linebacker Joe Walker was there to deflect the pass and the ball fell to the ground – INCOMPLETE. Oregon recovered the ensuing onsides kick and just like that the underdog Ducks had won and simultaneously ended Stanford’s CFB Playoff hopes.
“Civil” War 2017
WARNING: If there are any Beaver fans that accidentally made their way onto this site, please cover your eyes because it is about to get ugly.
Although this game did not have the same degree of excitement, suspense and seeding importance as the 2015 game against Stanford, it may be the most vengeful of all.
In 2016, after Oregon’s eight straight years of dominance and defeating their bitter rival Oregon State, the Beavers finally got their revenge on the Ducks, defeating them 34-24. This was the end of the Mark Helfrich era and the start of new era, an era that had local kid, Justin Herbert at the front and center of it.
The Ducks were clearly angry about last year’s loss and looked to avenge it. They opened the game with a 17-7 lead over the Beavers and let’s just say it got MUCH worse from here.
The Ducks went on to score 35 unanswered points in the second quarter alone and went into the lopsided half up 52-7. After second and third stringers played the entire second half, the Ducks managed to score 17 more points while the Beaver first team only mustered together one field goal. The Ducks not only got their revenge, but they put last year’s fluke to bed, winning by a score of 69-10.
As I mentioned prior, this game was not one that kept you on your seat. But it was one that shut your Oregon State friends up and made them realize that the Beavers will always be the Ducks little brother and I think that is something we can all appreciate.
Storming the Field 2018
The next game also happens to be my personal all-time favorite Duck game. This would of course be an October 2018 showdown against rival Washington at Autzen Stadium.
The Huskies came into Eugene ranked #7 in the country and had won five straight since losing a gut-wrenching game against Auburn to start their season. (Sounds familiar, huh?) As for Oregon, they were ranked #17 in the nation and were also 5-1 with their only loss coming against Stanford.
The first half was the definition of a back and forth battle. Once Washington scored Oregon followed suit, and once the Huskies had consecutive punts, the Ducks did much of the same. At halftime, the score was 17-17 which included an incredible toe-drag Jaylon Redd touchdown in the waning seconds of the second quarter.
Once the second half began, both defenses seemed to lock into form. After a string of punts from both teams, Oregon re-took the lead with a CJ Verdell touchdown. But of course, now that Oregon scored, Washington had to do the same. Washington quarterback, Jake Browning found Ty Jones for a 43-yard touchdown pass and the score was tied 24-24 heading into the fourth.
The fourth quarter is where it got ugly. With an opportunity to take the lead, Ducks kicker, Adam Stack set up for a 42-yard field goal and missed it. After both teams failed to do much on ensuing drives, Washington had a chance with five minutes left in the fourth to kill clock and get into field goal range. And they did just that. After repeated fourth down conversions, Washington was set up for a 37-yard field with three seconds left. A made field goal would win the game and give Washington fans bragging rights for a third year in a row.
Washington’s season was in the fate of freshman kicker, Peyton Henry. As he lined up to kick, Autzen got loud and I mean really loud. Everyone was on their feet screaming, doing whatever they could to prevent this kick from going through the uprights. But the snap was off, and hold was good and Henry made the kick. The game was over, the season was over, and we were about to be on the wrong end of those bragging rights right? Wrong, it turned out coach Mario Cristobal called a timeout just before the kick was set, which led to a Washington re-kick.
Unfazed by the icing of the kicker, Henry kicked again and again it was the same result. Not only did the kick go in but again Cristobal played his cards right and elected for a timeout before the snap.
Again, this worked in Oregon’s favor, but now our cards were showing, and we had no timeouts left. With no timeouts left all Peyton Henry had to do was kick it throughout the uprights for a third time. It seemed pretty routine as the first two were perfectly down the middle. But with Autzen magic in the air, nothing is routine.
The snap was set, the hold was good and…HENRY MISSED WIDE RIGHT! This game is going into overtime!
Washington opened up overtime with the ball and on the first play had a 19-yard run to set up a first and goal. But the Oregon defense put the clamps on and stopped them from scoring in the endzone. The Ducks defense forced a field goal and now it was the offenses turn to step up.
After converting on one first down, Oregon now had 3rd and goal at the Washington six-yard line. With what seemed like an obvious passing down, offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo pivoted electing for a Verdell inside handoff.
Arroyo must have known something, or he was just very ballsy because it worked. Verdell ran straight through the heart of the offensive line into the endzone, untouched by a Washington defender. The game was over, Washington’s playoff hopes were over and now Oregon fans had a year of telling their upstairs neighbors who the king of the Pac-12 North really was.
What commenced afterward might have been the best hour of my life. Along with probably every other UO student on campus, I sprinted down the stands, hopped the fence and stormed the field. High-fiving players, celebrating with my friends and classmates and dancing on the field after one of the most improbable Oregon wins in recent memory. IT WAS EPIC!
2020 Rose Bowl Rematch
The last game on our list also happens to be the last time we saw our beloved Ducks take the field. This would of course be the Ducks Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin on January 1 of this year.
After a very lackluster first half which included a pair of Herbert rushing touchdowns, the Ducks managed to head into the second half only down 17-14. The Badgers started the second half with the ball looking to make it a two possession game. Instead, after the Wisconsin punter muffed a punt, budding star Brady Breeze was able to pick up the loose ball off the ground and take it 31 yards to the house resulting in a touchdown and a Duck lead.
Oregon looked poised and the momentum seemed to swing to their side. However, what momentum they once had was short-lived as Wisconsin managed to put together an 11 play, 65-yard touchdown drive followed by a 27-yard field goal make.
Heading into the fourth quarter the Badgers had the ball, looked in control and were now up 27-21. In an attempt to continue to burn clock, Wisconsin elected to run the ball on second down with six yards to go. Fortunately for the Ducks, Danny Davis, the backup running back for the Badgers, fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Oregon senior Bryce Young.
On the very next play, Herbert would go on to likely have his most memorable moment as a Duck. Although the four-year starter was not known for his legs, he had two rushing touchdowns prior in the game and was looking to find the endzone once again – by any means possible.
After faking the read-option to Verdell, Herbert kept the ball, juked out two defenders and scampered his way to the right side of the endzone for a Duck score and a Duck lead 28-27.
The defense stood tough as they had all season and managed to get crucial stops on third down twice resulting in two punts and most importantly a 28-27 come-from-behind Oregon victory.
Pasadena was roaring, Eugene was roaring and the Ducks were once again Rose Bowl Champs. At the time all seemed right in the world but alas here we are.
If you got to this point in the article, I commend you. I know it was a long but reliving some of these incredible Oregon games can be invigorating and sometimes I cannot contain my excitement.
Long story short, since Marcus Mariota left the Ducks for the NFL, the degree of success might not be matched; however, it is hard to argue that there have not been a few games that really make you love and cherish being a duck fan. After all, at least we’re not Beavers.
San Francisco, California
Top Photo Credit: Tom Corno
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