CJ Verdell was the tailback that fumbled late in the fourth quarter that led to Stanford winning in overtime.
He didn’t fumble this time.
The freshman running back scampered five yards into the end zone to give Oregon a 30-27 overtime upset win over No. 7 Washington.
Right before the game-winning play, head coach Mario Cristobal sprinted down the sideline in order to call a timeout and call the perfect play. That play was to open a gaping hole right up the middle and have Verdell take it to the house.
Even to get that point took a minor miracle and some creative timeout calling from Cristobal.
With the score tied, the Huskies took the ball on their own 8-yard line with 5:05 remaining and executed a near perfect drive. They wanted to make sure to drive down the field and take their time doing it so Justin Herbert didn’t get another chance in regulation.
Jake Browning was at his best as he completed several third down passes to keep the ball. Eventually, the Huskies had the ball on the Oregon 20 and in prime position for left-footer kicker Peyton Henry to win it.
Cristobal iced the opposing kicker twice by calling timeout. Even with the timeouts, Henry practice kicking the ball through and on each attempt he nailed it. But when it counted, Henry’s kick into the east goal posts ventured wide right sending the Autzen faithful of 56,691 into a frenzy.
That frenzy paled into comparison to when Verdell entered into that same east end zone.
For a while, it looked like the Ducks (5-1, 2-1) were going to break the 24-24 tie with their last drive in regulation. Herbert managed to get the offense to the Huskies 36. But thanks to a holding penalty, the Ducks were forced to punt and Herbert had to wait until overtime to get another shot at the Washington defense.
After Henry was able to chip in a 22-yard field goal for the brief 27-24 Washington lead, Herbert converted a huge third-and-11 with a 17-yard completion to Dillon Mitchell. And to show his maturity, in the play before the game-winner, Herbert was scrambling trying to make a play. Instead of forcing the ball in somewhere, the junior quarterback threw it away in order to play for another down.
Mitchell, as usual, was Herbert’s favorite target as the junior caught eight passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Herbert wasn’t spectacular on the whole, but when he needed to make a play, he made it. Overall, the junior signal caller was 18-of-32 for 202 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Herbert’s counterpart on the other sideline, Browning, was just as clutch. He was 15-of-25 for 243 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was also able to avoid multiple sacks with his legs to keep plays alive, many of them on third down. Washington was 6-of-13 on third downs, while the Ducks were 9-of-18 for the day.
The second half was exciting to be sure, but the first half had plenty of heart-wrenching moments as well. There were long returns, lengthy reviews and an ejection for targeting. Defensive lineman Drayton Carlberg was ejected for targeting Browning with a helmet-to-helmet hit on a sack.
His ejection might have had an effect on the defending the run as Washington was seemingly running on the Ducks almost at will at times. The Huskies ran for 194 yards and it was a team effort. Myles Gaskin led with 69 yards on 15 carries, but he was battling a shoulder injury for much of the game. Salvon Ahmed rushed for 61 yards and scored twice.
When the first half all was said and done, the game was knotted up at 17-17, which signified how tight of a game this would be throughout the second half and of course, overtime.
The game got off to a raucous start for the Ducks when Deommodore Lenoir picked off Browning on the second play of the game to set Oregon up at the Washington 39-yard line. The Ducks’ offense didn’t do a whole lot on its first possession, but managed to convert a 39-yard field for the early 3-0 lead.
Washington was able to answer with a field goal of their own from 41-yards out and it was 3-3 with 8:05 left in the opening quarter. Then confused occurred.
Tony Brook-James return the ensuing kickoff to the Oregon 41 and fumbled. But there were flags on the field. At first, it was announced that both teams were offsides. Then the play was reviewed to see if Brooks-James did indeed fumble. Sometime during the review, the flag on Washington disappeared, it was announced Brook-James did fumble and the Huskies recovered.
Washington quickly scored on Ahmed’s 25-yard run and took a 10-3 lead.
Herbert was able to get a scoring drive going towards the end of the first quarter. He found Mitchell over the middle and watched his receiver zig-zag his way to the end zone, making three Huskies defenders miss, the score was tied again at 10-10.
Now somehow the Ducks will have to put this game behind them and focus on a dangerous road game at the Palouse against Washington State. The Cougars are 5-1 and 2-1 in league and are coming off a bye week to prepare for Oregon.
But for a day or so, the Ducks can celebrate their biggest win in quite some time.
~ Don Smalley