Friday will be the 127th meeting in what is still unofficially* referred to as the Civil War series between the University of Oregon Ducks and the Oregon State University Beavers. At the first game between the schools on November 4 1894 in Corvallis, OR the host school was known as Oregon Agricultural College. The home team “Coyotes” shut out the “Lemon-Yellows” from Eugene 16-0. Since then, Oregon has the overall edge in the series 67-49-10.
*More information on the origins of the nickname and the sequence of events that led to it being discarded by the schools can be found here. Special thanks to Oregon State University for providing so many links to additional sources.
The rivalry has generally been defined by periods of dominance by one school over the other. From 1894 through 1919, Oregon went 16-4-4 against OAC. A period of parity ensued as Oregon went 4-5-3 from 1920 through 1931, during which time OAC was reorganized as Oregon State University. Oregon took the next 4 games, but would play second fiddle in football for a long time afterward. From 1936 through 1974 the Beavers owned the Willamette Valley going 28-8-2 against the Ducks. Oregon burst the dam completely after the 1974 season. Oregon State wouldn’t win another game in the series until 1988 and only 3 games total from 1975 through 1996.
The golden age for the rivalry came following the arrival of head coach Mike Riley to Corvallis. From 1997 through 2006, the home team won the game every year. Frequently the outcome also determined which team finished higher in the Pac-10 standings. The Beavers broke the streak with a win at Autzen Stadium in 2007. Since then the Beavers have only notched three wins, but that includes the last two games in Corvallis.
The future of the series is still uncertain. While an open date was left in Oregon’s BIG schedule to accommodate a possible game against Oregon State the third week in November, the Beavers and Ducks are not currently scheduled to meet next season. There is renewed hope the schools can come to a scheduling agreement now that their northern rivals have led the way.
Today we count down the five greatest games from the rivalry in the modern era which, as a Ducks fan, I define as the appointment of head coach Rich Brooks in Eugene in 1977.
5. Fiesta Para Castores - November 18, 2000
Going into the last week of the regular season Oregon was the only team in the Pac-10 undefeated in conference play having handed the hated Huskies of Washington their only loss of the season. The Beavers had only a single loss themselves, to the same Washington team. A win for the Ducks would mean their second ever outright Pac-10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Beavers still had a shot at Pasadena themselves, but only if the Washington State Cougars shocked their opponents in the Apple Cup later in the day (they didn’t). Regardless, a win would crush their arch-rivals dreams and put the team in position for an at-large bid to a BCS game. It was a meteoric rise for a program that had its first winning season in the last 28 only a year prior.
The 23-13 final score did not truly reflect Oregon State’s dominant performance. Heralded Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington had the worst game of his career, throwing 5 interceptions and losing a fumble. His counterpart Jonathan Smith (now the Beavers’ head coach) outplayed him in every way and the Ducks’ defense could not make up for their offense’s struggles. The victory landed wide receiver Chad Johnson on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the Beavers won their 10th game of the season, their highest ever regular season total. The upstart Beavers would go on to blow out storied Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, prompting the Jan 2, 2001 sports page of the Oregonian to run with the headline: “Tradition Takes a Beating.” The Ducks would rally to beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl for their first 10 total win season in school history. But the painful memory of losing out on a Rose Bowl birth to the Beavers would be a lifelong scar for players and fans.
4: Cinderella Goes to the Ball - November 19, 1994
Before the 1994 season, nearly every major magazine had predicted Oregon State to finish in 10th place in the Pac-10. One publication had the Beavers in 9th place… just ahead of the Ducks. Oregon’s season had started badly, losing consecutive games to WAC opponents Hawaii and Utah. The Ducks made one of the greatest mid-season turnarounds in living memory, regrouping to beat Iowa in Eugene before stunning USC in LA. Oregon stumbled against Washington State the next week, but beat every other Pac-10 team on their schedule including huge upsets over Washington and Arizona. A win against 4-6 Oregon State would guarantee the Ducks their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1957 thanks to the tiebreaker over the Trojans.
Though usually having worse records than their rivals, the Beavers had made games against Oregon competitive in recent years by playing physical defense and shortening the game with their triple option rushing attack. This game would be no exception, and the Ducks trailed 10-13 in the 4th quarter. Oregon wide receiver Cristin McLemore had injured his left hand earlier in the game but made a key catch to get the Ducks into the red zone. Subsequently backed up to the Oregon State 19, running back Dino Philyaw took a screen pass from quarterback Danny O’Neil to the end zone. Oregon held on to win 17-13 and secured their first ever outright Pac-10 title (thanks to UCLA’s upset of USC the same day). In a stirring display of sportsmanship, even the home fans in Corvallis applauded the winners as they left the field.
3: The First Overtime - November 21, 1998
The 1998 season was a transformational one for both programs, though it would not be apparent for years afterward. Oregon had opened new practice facilities for the team before the season that rivaled any in the nation. The Ducks came into the game at 8-2 having garnered national attention for the play of Akili Smith at quarterback. Head coach Mike Bellotti had his sights set on the first 10 win season in school history. Oregon State was 4-6 under second year head coach Mike Riley, relying on true freshmen Jonathan Smith at QB and Ken Simonton at RB. The young Beavers rose to the challenge. Having suffered numerous injuries to their running backs earlier in the year, the Oregon offense struggled to manage the clock. Oregon State matched the Ducks score for score despite giving up a number of explosive pass plays to Smith and his receivers.
Regulation ended in a 31-31 tie… but for the first time in the history of the series the game went into overtime. Simonton scored for the Beavers on their first possession. Oregon’s offense sputtered on the following drive, and Smith’s pass on 4th and 13 fell incomplete. Ecstatic Beavers fans rushed the field… but hadn’t noticed the penalty flag that had been thrown. A call of defensive pass interference extended the Oregon drive. Following a delay to clear the fans to the sidelines (most never did return to the stands) the Ducks scored a touchdown of their own to extend the game 38-38. Though the Oregon State faithful had tempted fate with their premature celebration Oregon only managed a field goal on their next possession. Simonton quickly let the home fans back onto the field with another touchdown run, completing the upset. The five wins in the season was the most for Oregon State since 1971. This victory would mark a turning point for the program and serve as a foundation for the successful Beaver teams that followed.
2: The War of the Roses - December 3, 2009
A year prior to this game, Oregon State had found themselves with a chance to make it to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1964 thanks to an early season upset of USC in Corvallis. Mike Belloti’s final Oregon squad had other plans and the Ducks dashed their rivals’ hopes 65-38. The 65 points was the most scored by either team in the history of the series. Mike Riley was undeterred by the setback, and a year later had his team in position to win the conference once more. Now head coach Chip Kelly had rallied Oregon after a disastrous opening game at Boise State and the Ducks had only a single conference loss. For the first time in over 100 years, it would be winner take all for the Pac-10 title and for Pasadena.
Led by the dynamic duo of brothers James and Jacquizz Rodgers, the Beavers went toe-to-toe with Kelly’s offense and took a 23-21 lead into halftime. Oregon State stretched the lead to 30-21 on their first possession of the third quarter and looked set to avenge their loss the previous season. On the next drive Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount saw his first playing time since being suspended for punching a Boise State player following the opening week loss. He responded with a touchdown run to cut the deficit to 30-28. Oregon State answered with a field goal before giving up a long run by Ducks’ running back LaMichael James. Oregon went for 2 to stretch the margin to 3 but failed. The 4th quarter began with the Ducks nursing a 34-33 lead over the Beavers.
Oregon would only add a field goal to make it 37-33, but their offense had the ball with 3:29 left to play at the Oregon State 33 yard line facing 4th and 3. Kelly decided to trust his offense to run out the clock and went for it. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli rolled to his right to throw before deciding to trust his legs as a Beavers’ defender sprinted to the sideline to stop him.
It all came down to a single collision between a lone Duck and a lone Beaver. One would stand, one would fall.
Another 4th down conversion, this time a pitch to running back Kenyon Barner with 1:37 left would ice the game. Between the high stakes and high drama a game like this would be considered a classic in any rivalry in the nation. But it was even more special for anyone associated with these programs who remembered the number 1 moment in this rivalry’s history…
1: The Toilet Bowl - November 19, 1983
Real fans knew this was coming.
1983 saw the wettest winter in Eugene, OR then on record. Strong winds and heavy rains throughout the state the weekend of the game resulted in a major shipwreck near Newport, OR that spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the ocean. Recollections from anyone at Autzen Stadium that day inevitably tell of rain close to freezing that came down in sheets rather than droplets. Drainage throughout Autzen Stadium was inadequate to deal with such extreme precipitation. The stadium aisles turned into waterfalls and the sidelines were covered by layers of water inches deep. The longer the game went on, the more puddles grew on the astroturf playing field that inhibited the active players. Condensation on the press box windows was so intense that coaches and media had to open them to see the field, allowing cold rain to be blown in sideways.
Adding to the difficulties, both teams were down to their third string quarterbacks due to injuries. The result was one of the greatest comedies of error football, at any level, has ever produced. The Ducks and Beavers attempted two field goals each and missed all four. The quarterbacks combined to throw five interceptions. The teams fumbled the ball a total of eleven times, and six times possession changed as a result. Oregon did score on two plays, but both were negated by penalties. It would end up being the last 0-0 tie in NCAA football history before overtime was introduced in 1996.
For those old enough to remember it, or even for those with friends or family who were there, the game remains an unforgettable experience in the worst possible way. But it is also a reminder of how far both teams have come in the years since. Ducks and Beavers can be all the more thankful for the great contests, whether the outcomes gave pleasure or pain, that have come afterwards.