"Keenan's punt return just energized everybody," said Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti. "It got people excited, got them going, and it gave a spark."
What happen next almost bordered on divine intervention. Just as Oregon's Jared Siegel started teeing up the kickoff, the wind began to swirl and the rain opened up to the most ferocious downpour of the day. The Oregon fans became raucous, screaming at levels high enough that barely drowned out the howling wind while recklessly throwing throughout the stadium the yellow pompoms provided to them at the beginning of the game. The ensuing Oregon State offensive series went three and out.
"There was a certain swell of weather at that point which was nice timing," said Bellotti.
Just as curiously, following the deluge, after Oregon State punted into the end zone, the weather mysteriously abated as the referees brought the ball out to the 20-yard line to begin Oregon's only touchdown drive of the game. Now came perhaps the second and third most heroic plays made by the Ducks in the game. Facing third and 10 from the 20-yard line Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington waited for Howry on a deep crossing pass play and connected for a gain of 28 yards and a first down. Nine plays later senior running back Maurice Morris smashed through the Oregon State defense to rush eight yards and score stretching Oregon's lead to 17-6.
"He had that look in his eye," said Harrington speaking of Morris in the huddle prior to the touchdown play. "He wanted that touchdown. We knew if we could put that score on the board we could really distance ourselves from Oregon State."
Part of the credit must also go to the offensive line that seemed to improve as the drive wore on. "I think we got to give a lot of that credit to the offensive line," said Harrington. "There was just such energy within them. All during that whole drive they'd come back to the huddle they'd be foaming at the mouth ready to hit somebody. They really set the tone for that drive."
"If you lead the conference in rushing and you lead the conference in fewest sacks per pass attempted, arguably you probably have the best offensive line in the conference," remarked Bellotti. "There may not be one of them (that) stands out but they work together well and they came to play in the second half."
But the game was far from over. Oregon State capped an 11-play touchdown drive with a 2-point conversion to bring the score to 17-14 with 2:13 remaining. Although the Beaver's on-side kick failed by going out of bounds at the Oregon State 45, Harrington fumbled the football on a quarterback keeper with 1:49 remaining in the game. The fumble was the first turnover in the game for either team. The second turnover in the game came just three plays later and represented the fourth heroic play of the game for the Ducks. With the ball on the Oregon 40-yard line and 1:00 remaining, Oregon's senior cornerback Rashad Bauman intercepted Jonathan Smith's pass and returned it 29 yards to seal the Duck victory. From there Oregon's Harrington simply took a knee to the turf on two consecutive plays.
The close victory over Oregon State improved Oregon's record to 30-9 in games decided by a touchdown or less since Bellotti became head coach in 1995.
As much as the fourth quarter offensive heroics meant to the outcome of the game. It was really the Oregon defense that bent but didn't break that put the Ducks in the position to win the game. The defense only gave up two field goals in the first half and the late touchdown and 2-point conversion in the second half.
"We've had great confidence all season long in this defense," said Bellotti. "Everybody else wants to talk about the yardage. I want to talk about the points given up because that's what you lose with. Yards don't beat you. Points beat you. This defense has pride, plays hard, (and) plays fast. They did a great job tonight."
Morris finished the day with 102 yards rushing on 15 carries to raise his career total to 2,148 yards and pass Reuben Droughns (1998-99) for sixth in Oregon career rushing. Morris is only 40 yards away from achieving his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. Oregon's other prolific running back, sophomore Onterrio Smith, reached the 1,000-yard season rushing plateau on a nine-yard gain during the third quarter. Smith became the ninth 1,000-yard single season rusher at Oregon and finished the game with 30 yards on 11 carries.
Although Oregon's Heisman Trophy candidate Joey Harrington finished the day with only 11 pass completions on 22 attempts for 104 yards and no interceptions, he had a smile on his face following the game and perhaps put this year's win in perspective after losing to Oregon State last year.
"This is the one (football) I knelt down with (to close the remaining seconds in the game) and this is one I'm going to sleep with," said Harrington clutching the game ball following the game. "I'm not letting the ball out of my hands again tonight."
Total Yards: Oregon 209, Oregon State 359
First Downs: Oregon 10, Oregon State 19
Net Yards Passing: Oregon 104, Oregon State 252
Net Yards Rushing: Oregon 105, Oregon State 107
Possession Time: Oregon 27:42, Oregon State 32:18
Third-Down Conversions: Oregon 4 of 14, Oregon State 7 of 20
Penalties, Number-Yards: Oregon 2-12, Oregon State 3-25