Card rallies to take lead, loses as Oregon scores in final seconds
By DAVID LOMBARDI
So close, and yet so far away.
After seeing another victory slip from its grasp in the final seconds, the Stanford football team (5-5, 4-3 Pacific-10 Conference) was forced to wait one more week for another shot at becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001.
Just three weeks after UCLA stunned the Cardinal, 23-20 in an upset, come-from-behind victory, Oregon running back LaGarrette Blount swept into the end zone with six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to turn a 28-27 Stanford advantage into a 35-28 Duck victory at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
After Anthony Kimble recovered his own fumble in the end zone to give Stanford its first lead of the game with 2:18 remaining, Blount’s run capped an 11-play, 74-yard Oregon touchdown drive that shredded through the helpless Cardinal defense. The Stanford “D” was ineffective against Oregon (7-3, 5-2) all day, allowing 451 yards — 307 on the ground.
“I’m proud of the guys, the way they fought and the effort they gave,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We just didn’t finish the last drive on defense.”
The Cardinal’s last-minute breakdown was reminiscent of the team’s collapse on Oct. 18 at UCLA, when Bruins quarterback Kevin Craft capped off a long scoring drive with a touchdown pass to take the decisive lead with just nine seconds left. This Saturday, however, Stanford fell even harder — and faster — at game’s end.
Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who finished the game 11-21 for 144 yards passing, picked up nearly half of his 51 rushing yards on a devastating, 25-yard scramble to the Stanford eight-yard line on third-and-eight with less than a minute to play. The Ducks didn’t even need to use a single one of their three timeouts during their winning march downfield. The Cardinal, on the other hand, which had been forced to burn all three of its timeouts earlier in the half due to the disruptive Autzen Stadium crowd noise, watched helplessly as the Ducks ran out the clock prior to Blount’s winning score.
“You don’t have to throw the ball downfield right now, you’ve got a ton of time, you’ve got three timeouts,” Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly told Masoli before the drive.
“And we did exactly what we do in practice,” he added.
The thrilling ending was just a part of a wild game that saw six fumbles, a safety and Jekyll-and-Hyde weather patterns drifting from the occasional downpour to flashes of brilliant sunlight. For much of the afternoon, the Ducks’ biggest enemy was not the Stanford team, but rather their own propensity to turn over the football. Four Oregon fumbles allowed Stanford to hang in the game, even though the Ducks averaged an astonishing 7.5 yards per carry.
Although Kimble was solid in a 24-carry, 106-yard performance and quarterback Tavita Pritchard managed an efficient game heavily utilizing the play-action pass (going 15-22 for 138 yards), the story of the day was Oregon’s dominance up front. In a game between the Pac-10’s best rushing teams, it was the Ducks’ ground attack that stole the show. Starting running back Jeremiah Johnson finished with 15 carries for 135 yards, while Blount rushed 10 times for 90 yards and two scores.
“We feel like we let the team down,” said Stanford safety Bo McNally. “This is going to be a hard one to get over, but we’ve got to get over it fast. This might be the most painful loss so far.”
Stanford’s Toby Gerhart, who entered the game needing only 89 rushing yards to become Stanford’s first 1000-yard back since Tommy Vardell in 1991, finished with only eight carries for 21 yards after straining his upper right hamstring in the first quarter.
The game started disastrously for Stanford when Chris Owusu fumbled the opening kickoff deep in Cardinal territory. That set up Oregon kicker Flint Morgan, whose 37-yard field goal gave the Ducks a 3-0 lead.
A few plays later, Masoli hooked up with Jeff Maehl for a five-yard touchdown that capped a two-play, 50-yard drive that was highlighted by Drew Davis’ explosive 45-yard bubble screen catch-and-run. The game was barely three minutes old, but Oregon already led 10-0. A 41-yard Jeremiah Johnson touchdown run gave the Ducks their largest lead of the game at 17-3 with 2:09 remaining in the first quarter.
The Cardinal, however, struck back with 14 unanswered points to tie the game. A five-yard touchdown catch from Pritchard to fullback Josh Catron cut the lead in half. Then, on fourth-and-goal from the Oregon five, Stanford faked a field goal. Holder Bo McNally kept the snap and took it to the end zone for the equalizing score.
The teams then traded field goals, while Oregon made a habit of fumbling the football, before Blount ripped off a 38-yard touchdown run to give the Ducks a 27-20 lead with 5:33 remaining in the third quarter. Three Oregon second-half fumbles allowed Stanford to stick around as the fourth quarter wore on. Then, on third down from the Oregon three-yard line with 8:41 to play, center Max Unger’s snap sailed over the head of Masoli and out of the end zone for a safety that cut the lead to 27-22.
The Cardinal then took the ball 65 yards in 10 plays to set up Kimble’s go-ahead score. The drive, which chewed up 6:23 of clock, featured a clutch, nine-yard completion from Pritchard to Doug Baldwin on a fourth-and-two. It ended when Kimble fumbled into the end zone but was able to recover the ball for the touchdown just before it went out of bounds. The Cardinal failed to convert the two-point conversion, setting up Oregon’s game-winning drive.
Stanford has two more shots to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001: next week at home against Pac-10 heavyweight USC and Nov. 22 at archrival California.
“We’ve been close a lot of times and now we’ve just got to get over the hump,” Pritchard said. “We’ve just got to finish.”