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An End-of-the-Decade Look Back: Best Football Moments

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An Journalist’s look at the ULTIMATE list of the top-ten highlights from a decade of Duck Football

Rose Bowl - Oregon v Florida State Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With the approach of not just a new year but a new decade, I thought a look back at some of the greatest moments from undeniably the best ten years in Oregon Football’s long and storied history was in order.

And let me tell you, this was no easy task— there have been literally DOZENS! of note-worthy highlights to choose from over this span of time. Yours Truly spent minutes plowing through the archives searching for what surely will come to be known as THE definitive list of the top-ten most memorable moments from a most memorable decade. So sit back, relax, and marvel once more at a truly remarkable era.

1. Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Speech

Two aspects of my life that I will never change. To the Polynesian community, I hope and pray that this is only the beginning. Young Poly athletes everywhere, you should take this as motivation, and dream big and strive for greatness.

Finally, Mom, Dad, Matt and the rest of my family, thank you. Thank you for sacrificing and providing me and Matt every opportunity we could have. Words can’t express how much you guys mean to me. I’m truly grateful to have you guys in my life.

Fa’afetai tele lava. God bless, and go Ducks.

A humble speech from a humble man. If you hadn’t dabbed a tear by the time he’d finished reading his text, your Humanity should be questioned. Not just a great football player, but a great human being, and a tremendous ambassador for not just the program but the university as well.

2. Winston Scoop ‘n’ Score, 2015 Rose Bowl

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Despite entering the game as eight-point favorites, Oregon was still seen as the upstarts going against the defending national champs Florida State, led by the previous year’s Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. The game was close through the first half, but the Ducks broke it open in the third, with Marcus Mariota tossing back-to-back touchdown passes to Darren Carrington to put the game out of reach. That’s when the fun began.

Cue the Yakkity Sax!

Now certainly this play didn’t change the course of the game, won of course by Oregon by the ridiculous score of 59-20, but the sheer delight and happiness it brought— watching the scandal-ridden and much-maligned Winston from Blue-Blood FSU get spun around and ultimately fumble the ball, which bounced perfectly into Tony Washington’s waiting arms, leading to yet another Duck touchdown— was the perfect capper on that joyous day.

3. Fourth Quarter Fumble Recovery, 2012 Rose Bowl

Coming in, this game had all the makings of a real barn-burner, and it did not disappoint. Tied after one and at the half, Oregon and Big-Ten champ Wisconsin went back-and-forth all afternoon with neither team able to break the game open. With just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Ducks clung to a tenuous 45-38 lead. The Badgers were driving for a tying score when UW quarterback Russell Wilson hit receiver Jared Abbrederis, who up until that moment had had a Rose Bowl to remember, for a 29 yard strike deep in Oregon territory. But then...

Michelangelo couldn’t have painted a better scene.

Oregon cornerback Terrence Mitchell managed to pop the ball loose, causing Abbrederis to fumble the ball, which miraculously died on the hallowed turf for what seemed like minutes until linebacker Michael Clay pounced on it at the Oregon 27 to snuff the Badger rally, and with it Wisconsin’s chances of winning the game. The Ducks held on to win by the same 45-38 score for their first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years.

4. CJ Verdell’s 70-Yard Touchdown Run, 2019 PAC-12 Championship Game

I think my sphincter is only just now unclenching.

I don’t have to tell you people much about this one— Oregon came into the game as heavy underdogs to the 11-1 Yoots of Yoootah, a red-hot squad that was, y’know, only playing for a possible playoff bid. Oregon would flip the script and race out to a 20-zip halftime lead— a lead which COULD have easily been 35-0 had a couple of breaks gone the Ducks’ way. However, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham must have changed his lucky underwear during the intermission, as the Utes came out guns-a-blazin’ in the second half, and had managed to make it a one score game at 23-15 early in the fourth with all the momentum on their side. That’s when CJ Verdell— and the Greatest Offensive Line on the Planet— went to work.

Verdell, along with his backfield mates, had been maligned all season for not being able to break tackles, but CJ was not going to be stopped on this night. Verdell’s run broke what was left of the Utes’ will, and he would tack on an exclamation point score on a 31-yard run later in the fourth for the final points in Oregon’s 37-15 upset. Verdell shredded the vaunted Utah defense for 208 yards and three touchdowns on his way to game MVP honors.

5. DeAnthony Thomas’ Opening Kick-Off Return Touchdown, 2013 Fiesta Bowl

Well, THAT escalated quickly.

The heads on fans’ $20.00 beers hadn’t even settled before Thomas took the opening kick to the house, arguably ending Kansas State’s chances in Glendale that night before even having touched the ball. Oregon led wire-to-wire in their 35-17 manhandling of the Wildcats, and while Marcus Mariota would be named the game’s MVP, it was DAT’s dazzling play that set the stage.

6. Mariota Shovel Pass to Freeman vs. Michigan State, 2014

The first of many Heisman Moments for Marcus Mariota that year.

The first real test in that magical 2014 season, and what a test— only a visit from #7 Michigan State and their dominating defense. The two teams traded punches early, with the Spartans going to the locker room at halftime leading 24-18. Oregon came out flat after the break and were staring down a 3rd-and-10 and their third straight punt to open the half when Mariota provided the highlight reel play:

Freeman would gain 17 yards and a first down on the play, which ultimately led to a Devon Allen touchdown reception that cut the Sparty lead to 27-25. More importantly however, the play completely flipped the momentum to Oregon— who would hold Michigan State scoreless the remainder of the game— as they would pull away for the 46-27 victory.

7. Mariota to Huff Touchdown vs. washington, 2013

Josh Huff’s Willis Reed moment.

Oregon came into this game at husky Stadium 5-0, ranked #2 in the nation, and heavy favorites against the #16 dawgs. The Ducks broke out to a 21-7 halftime lead, but lost leading receiver Huff to what at the time appeared to be a rather serious leg injury just before the intermission. When washington running back Bishop Sankey broke off a 64-yard touchdown run on the dawgs’ opening drive of the second half to cut the lead to seven, Duck fans nationwide no doubt got just a wee bit nervous. But then Marcus provided some of that magic-o-TAH, with a 65-yard strike to the aforementioned Huff:

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated

Oregon was never really threatened after that, and cruised to a 45-24 victory, their tenth straight against hapless washington.

8. Joe Walker 100-Yard Fumble Return vs. Utah, 2014

Without a doubt the most bizarre play on the list, and probably one of the most bizarre plays in Oregon Football’s history.

#4 Oregon trailed the #17 Utes 7-0 early in this game in Salt Lake City, and were about to go down two scores after a long Travis Wilson to Kaelin Clay pass play, when the inexplicable happened:

Clay clearly drops the ball short of the goal line. Then things got even more whacko.

First Oregon DB Erick Dargan picks up the ball, but it’s knocked out of his hands by a Utah player. Then Duck linebacker Joe Walker, realizing that the whistle hasn’t blown and no touchdown has been signaled, picks it up and rumbles the other way for one of the craziest fumble recovery touchdowns you’ll ever see. The Ducks would wind up blowing the game open in the second half, winning comfortably 51-27.

9. Thomas Tyner Spin Move vs. Stanford, 2014

Tyner, one of the great What-Could-Have-Been stories in the program’s history, provided one of the most dazzling individual plays from the 2014 season.

Oregon came into the contest with a full-blown Stanford Problem, having dropped the previous two games to the Cardinal in rather dramatic fashion. The Ducks were clinging to a 24-16 lead late in the third quarter, when Tyner set the dial to Spin:

Damn indeed.

The Ducks would put the hammer down in the fourth, exorcising at least some of the demons from the previous two seasons on their way to the 45-16 win.

10. CJ Verdell’s Overtime Touchdown vs. washington, 2018

The Ducks entered this game having lost two straight to the dawgs, both in humiliating fashion. After going back-and-forth for 60 minutes, the two teams went to overtime tied at 24. After washington kicked a field goal on their first possession of the extra session, CJ Verdell decided there wouldn’t be a third straight loss:

Like the parting of the Red Sea.

Which of course led to this:

Hee hee.

Oregon 30, washington 27.