This year’s Holiday Bowl between the No. 15 Oregon Ducks and North Carolina Tar Heels was a game for history books. Trailing 27-21, the Ducks’ offense rallied down the field in the game’s final minutes with Chargers’ star quarterback Justin Herbert watching from the sideline. On fourth down with 19 seconds remaining, Bo Nix threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Chase Cota, who muscled his way across the goal line for the game-tying score.
After video replay confirmed the touchdown, kicker Camden Lewis‘ point-after attempt bounced off the left upright and went through to give Oregon a thrilling 28-27 win. The stadium erupted with cheers and nervous laughter from thousands of Ducks fans after Lewis’ bank shot gave Oregon head coach Dan Lanning the perfect gift: a 10-win season in his first year at the helm in Eugene.
The post-Christmas bowl game, which returned to San Diego after a two-year hiatus, was the first football game at Petco Park. The playing field, however, left much to be desired. The San Diego Padres’ postseason logo was still visible behind the Oregon sideline and there were gaps and tears in the turf.
During timeouts and television breaks, grounds crews worked to repair a large area of depressed turf between the 15- and 25-yard lines covering the Padres’ dirt infield. Rain earlier in the day apparently caused the problem to get worse, and despite their best efforts to fill it with sand and sod, the patch remained an eyesore the entire game.
Aside from the field issues, the Ducks gave one of the most memorable performances in the program’s postseason history. Led by Nix, who recently announced his return to Oregon next season, and running back Bucky Irving, the Ducks showed flashes of brilliance and endured agonizing moments of adversity before delivering a truly memorable comeback victory.
Nix was fairly solid most of the game, completing 23 of 30 pass attempts for 205 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He finished the year second in UO single-season history in completions (294), fourth in passing yards (3,594) and tied for eighth in passing TDs (29).
Irving had 13 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns, including a 66-yard dash to the end zone, earning him offensive player of the game honors. Freshman running back Jordan James also impressed with a few bruising runs, showcasing a bright future for the Ducks’ backfield. Oregon defender Mase Funa, who had seven tackles and a sack, was named the game’s defensive MVP.
As a fan, I had no idea what to expect from Mack Brown‘s unranked Carolina team. But early on, it was apparent the Tar Heels came ready to play. In the leadup to the game, media reports indicated much of the UNC defense was sidelined due to injury or would skip the trip altogether to prepare for the 2023 NFL Draft.
This was a bit misleading, as the Tar Heels defense, especially sophomore linebacker Power Echols, gave Nix and Co. fits throughout the game, including a wild interception that bounced off several players’ feet and legs like a hacky sack before landing in Echols’ hands.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning finished his first year with 10 wins after the Ducks defeated UNC in the Holiday Bowl, 28-27.
UNC quarterback Drake Maye also made things difficult at times for the Oregon defense. The Tar Heels freshman quarterback, who racked up 4,320 passing yards and 38 touchdowns this season (Tied for 3rd in the nation), completed 50% of his passes for 206 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Ducks.
Those who were at the game know the feeling of excitement as the Ducks made the final push across the goal line. The feeling is hard to describe — nail-biting, nerve-wracking, excited delirium. It’s games like these that football fans never forget. For all of the late-season foibles and folly, Lanning and the Ducks delivered a historical victory that will give fans more than enough juice to make it through the long offseason. Savor these moments. Happy New Year. And, of course, Go Ducks!
San Diego, California
Top photo by UO Football/Twitter
Jordan is a lifelong Duck fan currently living in San Diego. Jordan graduated from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, after serving a prestigious fellowship with the Washington State House of Representatives. Upon graduation, he worked as an English language teaching assistant for the Spanish Ministry of Education’s Ambassadorial Program in Monforte de Lemos, Spain. Jordan has worked as a journalist, writer, and editor in Oregon, Washington, Montana, and California, covering a wide range of topics, including sports, local politics, and crime. He is VERY excited to be writing about his beloved Oregon Ducks.
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