Ducks lose Sun Bowl 31-30

It finally took a 42-yard field goal by Minnesota's Rhys Lloyd to determine the outcome of the 70th Annual Wells Fargo Sun Bowl on Wednesday afternoon. Clearing the goal post by inches, Lloyd's kick gave the Minnesota Golden Gophers a 31-30 victory over the Oregon Ducks. A near capacity crowd of 49,894 enjoyed a well-played game by both teams.

"I think it is unfortunate that we didn't win it, simply because it was a great football game," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti. "But we were in it and I'm proud of the effort of the kids and I'm proud of our performance. We needed a little bit more time or another opportunity."

Headed into the game the Ducks knew that Minnesota would run the ball and that is exactly what the Golden Gophers did. Minnesota finished the day with 263 yards rushing on 55 attempts and held their drives together with efficient passing. Quarterback Asad Abdul-Kaliq finished the day throwing 12-for-21, 172 yards and his passes seemed to keep drives alive and the Ducks off balance. Rushing though was the meat and potatoes for the blue collar team from the northland. Laurence Maroney finished the day running for 131 net rushing yards and one touchdown on 15 carries. Thomas Tapeh had 40 yards and scored three times. Tapeh broke a Minnesota bowl record with his three scores and Maroney became the 12th player in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.

The game was an even match from the kickoff. The teams held each other scoreless until the second quarter when Oregon scored on a 65-yard drive lasting nine plays when Kellen Clemens hooked up with fullback Donte Rosario for nine yards. Minnesota responded with their own scoring drive and the pattern of scoring and responding began. The Golphers took the ensuing kickoff and drove 67 yards in nine plays when Tapeh dove in for his first score. Oregon then took its turn and quickly scored on a Samie Parker reception for 18 yards. Parker would go on to a monsterous day. The senior from Long Beach, Calif. set a Sun Bowl record with 16 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Parker also broke the single season pass reception record with 68 and finished the season with 77 receptions. Parker was named C.M. Hendricks Most Valuable Player for the game.

"Samie was in a zone today," observed Bellotti.

The second quarter was also a record setter for the Sun Bowl when the two teams combined for a total of 31 points. After Parker touchdown reception, Minnesota tied the game on a 17-play dirve of 80 yards and lasting 7:41 seconds. That drive may have been an indication that the Oregon defense was facing a team that could successfully do what Oregon State, Cal and Michigan were unable to do against Oregon -- hold onto the ball for long time consuming scoring drives. Jared Siegel finished off the first half with a 30-yard field goal. It was his first of three field goals and Siegel was rewarded by being named the John Folmer Most Valuable Special Teams Player.

The second half of the contest was like the first half with both teams trading scores. Clemens finished the day with an impressive 32-for-42 effort, 363 yards, three touchdowns and one interception made in last gasp effort in the waning moments of the game. One other Duck captured the Jimmy Rogers, Jr. Most Valuable Lineman Award, and that was Junior Siavii, the mammoth Duck defensive tackle. Siavii finished off his Oregon career with seven tackles.

Despite the loss, the Ducks left the stadium feeling they had played well and put in a great effort. The Ducks only turnover came very late in the game, and the Ducks caused a momentum change in the fourth quarter when Igor Olshansky recovered a fumble by Abdul-Kaliq on Oregon's 27-yard line. Penalty wise, the Ducks were five penalties for 97 yards, while Minnesota was flagged twice for 47 yards.

"Oregon had a great offensive game plan," said Minnesota's Glen Mason. "The game came down to the fourth quarter."

The Ducks had taken the lead 30-28 on Siegel's last field goal and in the ensuing drive, the Gophers started off from their own 20. They moved the ball down field and used up their last time out with just 1:36 showing on the clock and on their own 47-yard line. Minnesota moved the ball to the Oregon 25 and was aided with two Oregon timeouts. The Ducks apparently were concerned with Minnesota's quick counts despite all things, the last kick by Lloyds was as nerve racking for Mason as it was for the Ducks.

"I was a little shaky when it came down to the last kick, but all I told (Rhys Lloyd) was to hit it good," recounted Mason. "My concern at that point was to keep my team off the field to avoid a penalty."

Whether Oregon not calling the timeouts would have made a difference will make for good speculation and discussion on the message boards, but the kick barely cleared the bar on the goal post.

The win gave Minnesota their first 10-game win season ever. The Ducks finish the season with an 8-5 record but at one point in the season many had thought Oregon going to a bowl game and finishing third in the Pac-10 was an unreachable goal. What will Oregon do now? For starters they will have two big recruiting weekends in the next two weeks.

"We are going to lose two offensive and two defensive players next year," said Bellotti. "We need to start rebuilding as soon as we get back home."

The end of the game also saw the end of playing days for several Ducks. Quinn Dorsey was upbeat and despite the loss felt the team has a good chance for success next year, and he did take solace in at least one accomplishment this year.

"Keep your heads on straight and work hard," offered Dorsey to his teammates that will wear the Green and Yellow next season. Then Dorsey thought for a moment and responded to a question about the loss.

"It's hard, but on he bright side I still beat Oregon State." With that Dorsey headed off to the locker room.

Standing outside answering questions, Kevin Mitchell was a bit more openly emotional about ending his playing days as a Duck.

"(It is) sad because it is over and I'll never put on a helmet again," felt Mitchell. "It is a special time (playing days at Oregon) that I'll always remember."

Mitchell then reflected on the fact the Ducks were playing the Sun Bowl in El Paso with nearby Fort Bliss. The stands had many camouflaged troops watching the game. The soldiers are U.S. Army Reserve personnel that are at Fort Bliss training for their deployment to Iraq in a few weeks. The military presence was very evident from the start when the US Army Black Knights parachute team jumped seven men onto the field prior to the start of the game. Considering the emotions of the game, Mitchell grounded himself and made a poignant observation.

"Compared to what they do it is just a game," said Mitchell of the difference between football and what the soldiers may face shortly. "It is a very special that they do for us all."

The 70th Sun Bowl is now history and perhaps it was Mitchell's astute observation about how seriously a game can be taken. The 2003 football season for the Ducks had its share of adversity and success, but taking a moment to reflect on the year having the team leave the stadium feeling they had made their best effort should be a reward in itself.

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