Justin Herbert Leads a dramatic game winning drive as time dwindles in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – The underdog Oregon Ducks (4-7, 2-6) pulled the shocker of the Pac-12 season by knocking off the No. 11 Utah Utes (8-3, 5-3) in front of a stunned home crowd of 46,327, the tenth largest crowd in the history of Rice-Eccles Stadium. Justin Herbert engineered a game winning drive that gave the Ducks the win with only 2 seconds left on the game clock.

Herbert was sensational, particularly in the fourth quarter by leading four touchdown drives and erasing a 7-3 Utah halftime lead. The talented freshman was 30-of-43 for 324 yards and three TD passes. He also rushed for 44 net yards and one rushing TD. Perhaps his most important run came on the last drive when the ball was on the Utah 29 and the Ducks faced third-and-10 with only 26 seconds left to go in the game. Herbert took the snap, avoided being sacked as he rolled right, he shook off the tackler and ran left up the sideline for a 12-yard gain. A flag for off sides was thrown at Utah, but the Ducks took the play and it was first-and-10 at the Utah 17 with 14 seconds left on the game clock.

Oregon called timeout, and when play resumed, Herbert took a shot for Jalen Brown in the right side of the end zone but the ball went incomplete. Second-and-10 and on the ensuing snap Herbert threw to the outside left rear pylon of the end zone where Darren Carrington made a juggling grab. The play was initially ruled incomplete and with only 2 seconds left to go in the game, an official review was made.

“Herbert’s throwing right to the spot every time in practice,” said Carrington. “I knew he’d do it in the game.”

 As the crowd tensely awaited, the replay on the giant screen, clearly revealed a slice of red between Carrington’s foot and the white chalk boundary line. After a lengthy review the lead official, Chris Coyte announced the upon further review, the receiver’s foot was within end zone and had made the catch. Coyte then signaled touchdown and stunned home crowd could only hope for some miracle on the ensuing kickoff.

“That was a long, long, long review,” said a relieved Mark Helfrich. “There would have been a lot of questions if that hadn’t been a touchdown. I thought our guys battled through a few of those (reviews), a couple more injuries, and some situations that were questionable that happened and guys just drove on excellent defense in the fourth quarter in their stadium, down, and stared it in the face.”

On the extra point attempt, Oregon took a victory formation with the ball fittingly snapped to Herbert, who instantly kneeled, preventing any kind of disastrous bounce of the ball on the point after.

When Matt Wogan teed up the ball and kicked a squib kick down field, Utah made several laterals in trying to advance the ball with one toss that was actually ahead of the runner and a flag was thrown. No matter because Brenden Schooler had tackled running and the game was over.

After the game, Herbert was asked, when he was a kid, how many times had he imagined a play like that where he would throw a winning touchdown with time expiring.

“A million,’ replied an obviously joyful Herbert, barely able to contain a large grin.

A relieved coaching staff also enjoyed the moment, particularly in a year where there has been so much frustration and failure.

Helfrich was asked if thought the win would save his job, and in reply he felt there will always be “ten percent the love you and ten percent that hate you,” he went on to say that most will switch based on how the team is doing.

Brady Hoke and John Neal both were very pleased that the defensive unit had come out today and tackled much better. It was a clearly a good moment for Oregon football. Over the last 20 years, Oregon has won lots of football games, but given the season and the losses, this has to be one of the best wins in some time.

Herbert counted it as the best win in a game he’s ever played in.

Interestingly, during that rubber-meets-the-road type drive, where it was all or nothing, for many snaps, there was eight or on some snaps nine freshmen or redshirt freshman on the field.

One aspect of Herbert’s game that seemed to improve dramatically was reading the zone-option correctly as evidenced by Royce Freeman rushing for 129 yards on 20 carries Tony Brooks-James had 78 while Herbert added 44. In all Oregon had 251 yards rushing. Along with the 324 yards of passing by Herbert, the Ducks had a total of 575 yards of offense.

Freeman was the leading Oregon receiver for the game with eight catches for 36 yards and the score. Brown had five catches for 89 yards while Johnny Mundt also pulled in five balls for 72 yards. Carrington’s winning touchdown grab was one of his five catches totaling 37 yards. Evan Baylis three receptions for 52 yards.

Defensively, Johnny Ragin III was the leading tackler with 10 tackles (four solos). Justin Hollins had 2.5 tackles for loss including a sack among his nine tackles (seven solos) while Troy Dye’s 10-yard sack may have been the spark the egged on the Duck defense in the first half. Dye finished with five solos among his nine total tackles.

Neal was particularly pleased with the defensive back field with some key pass break ups. Arrion Springs had two break ups and the Ducks had a total of eight with three coming from the defensive front.

In all, Oregon had five TFLs including two sacks, one from Dye and the other by Schooler.

Utah had 453 total yards with Joe Williams doing the bulk of the damage. Williams finished with 149 yards rushing on 22 carries and a touchdown. Quarterback Troy Williams finished the day throwing for 235 yards on 20-of -30 passing and a touchdown to Evan Moeai.

Corey Butler-Byrd scored the other offensive touchdown for the Utes in the first half.

In one of the more bizarre plays of the season, Dillon Mitchell was back to field a punt. Mitchell was doing the punt return chores for Charles Nelson, who had been ejected from the game for targeting while blocking on a run play.

When the ball was punted to Mitchell, he called for a fair-catch but the ball sailed over his head. Instead of letting the ball bounce into the endzone where it would have been called a touchback, he followed the ball. Initially, the play was called a touchback, but an official replay was made and the call was overturned resulting in a touchdown for Utah.

As far as Nelson’s play, after the game, Nelson said it was not explained to him what he did wrong, only that he had been disqualified.

Since Nelson was ejected in the first half, he will be able to play next week in the Oregon State game which is next Saturday at Reser Stadium in Corvallis.

While the Ducks are still smarting over a losing season, they will be able to save a very big victory in Salt Lake City and build upon it.

Notes:

·         Freeman became the second running back in Oregon history to surpass 4,000 career rushing yards. As of this game he now has 4,040 yards in his three years at Oregon.

·         Freeman also recorded his 21st 100-yard game, the second most in Oregon history.

·         Freeman eclipsed the 4,500-yard plateau in all-purpose yards and now ranks seventh in UO history, and he’s never had a kickoff return!

·         If that isn’t enough Freeman’s fourth quarter TD was his 48th career TD and fourth career TD catch.

·         One last Freeman note, he moved into 10th place on the Pac-12 Conference rushing list, overtaking Chris Polk of Washington.

·         Herbert threw for three TDs in the second half and it is the third time in five starts that he has thrown for at least three touchdowns.

·         Carrington now has 109 receptions and in now tied for 21st in the UO list.

·         Ragin’s 10 tackles, is the first double-digit tackles game of his career.

·         Alex Ofodile had his first career reception on an 8-yard catch.

·         Jimmie Swain forced a fumble that was recovered by Wayne Tei-Kirby and that was only the second fumble recovery of the season for Oregon.

·         Oregon’s steak of scoring at least 20 points in a game is 40 straight games, and is leading the NCAA.

·         Oregon’s win today is the first time in Helfrich’s reign that Oregon has won a game after trailing at the end of the third quarter.

 Official Box Score (from GoDucks.com)


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