Disappointing end to home season

Once upon a time, going to a game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon meant watching an Oregon victory, but not necessarily in the 2004 season. Oregon dropped its fifth loss of the year, the third loss in the Pac-10, and the third home loss when UCLA beat the Ducks 34-26. Despite a reported 58,344 in attendance the Ducks could only hold the momentum of the game for one series – then a team (UCLA) that Oregon's head coach Mike Bellotti described as "more hungry" took over.

"We let that one slip away, we gave them a touchdown on offense, a couple of turnovers, we gave them a touchdown on defense, and very poor tackling," said Bellotti of the loss. "Also, UCLA made some plays when they needed to. We had too little, too late."

The Holiday and Sun Bowls slipped away too as the season now boils down to one final meeting next Saturday in Corvallis in the Civil War against Oregon State. The Ducks (5-5, 4-3) must win on road in if an eleventh consecutive winning season is to be realized.

Long gone are the great aspirations of a great season that seemed so real in fall camp with an offensive line that boasted four seniors and a returning junior quarterback. Instead as the final seconds ticked off the click, it was clear that once again the Ducks had misfired when they most needed to make plays.

Oregon took the game's opening kickoff and moved the ball down field and scored on a 21-yard pass from Kellen Clemens to Dante Rosario in the first quarter. A 52-yard catch and run aided the scoring drive by freshman Cameron Colvin and it seemed the Ducks were picking up from the first half of last week's game against California. No sooner were the fans settled in and thinking of bowl game they might need to plan for when disaster struck. Clemens was picked off for a touchdown by Trey Brown for a 43-yard return to allow the game to be tied at seven after the point after. Suddenly there seemed to be a big swing in momentum.

UCLA took control of the game late in the first quarter with an effortless drive of 68 yards and with eight seconds to go in the first, the Bruins took the lead with a 14-7 score after Manuel White dove in from the 3-yard line. The Bruins continued to display their dominance in the second quarter by utilizing Manuel White and executing a 94-yard drive of 11 plays. White scored from 4-yards out and the Bruins took a 21-7 lead.

The Ducks were able to put up three more points in the second quarter when they were moved the ball 55 yards in 11 plays and Jared Siegel kicked a 30-yard field goal, making the score 21-10 going into half time.

UCLA scored on its first drive of the second half with a field goal of 53-yards boosting the lead to 24-10, but Oregon came back. The Ducks capped an 80-yarrd drive when Clemens kept the ball and ran from the 8-yard line and dove into the end zone. The Ducks cut UCLA's lead to 24-17.

Later on in third quarter, the Bruins muffed the long snap for the punter on the UCLA 48 and Oregon recovered on the UCLA 27. However, the Ducks were unable to advance the ball farther than the 26, and Siegel hit his second field goal of the day for 38 yards. Oregon narrowed the lead to 24-20. A more perfect metaphor could not have been scripted for Oregon's season later on in the third when the Ducks had UCLA in a third-and-nine situation. UCLA quarterback Drew Olson calmly hit Junior Taylor and 83 yards later, the Bruins had six more points.

"The offense really sealed the deal," said UCLA Head Coach Karl Dorrell. "A couple third downs we had to come through with this crowd, but there was great execution."

The Ducks needed a big play and finally got one from Justin Phinisee when he returned Bruin punter Chris Kluwe's punt 73 yards for a touchdown, cutting the score to 31-26. The Ducks lined up for a 2-point conversion but Clemens ended up on the 1-foot line and the Ducks would need one more touchdown to win. Even though Oregon seemed destined for one of those legendary Autzen Stadium comebacks of the Joey Harrington era, it was not to be. The Bruins tacked on one more field goal to make the score 34-26. Oregon tried a 2-minute drill to move the ball down field for a score and possible 2-point conversion to tie the game, but alas it was too little too late. Clemens' final pass to Garren Strong on a fourth-and-four was high and all the Bruins had to do was take a couple snaps, kneel down and end the game.

"We kept battling but they had a good running game," said senior offensive lineman Nick Steitz. "It is kind of disappointing to lose your last one at Autzen."

For the departing 19 seniors, the last reminisce of a team that went to the Fiesta Bowl and No. 2 national ranking, the final slow walk through the tunnel toward the locker room had to be painful. Clemens, who has had a sensational year this season, was mediocre and struggled against the Bruins. He finished the day going 15-for-29, 192 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked twice. Perhaps there was a good reason for Clemens being a bit off.

"Kellen wasn't as sharp today, he had 65 cc's (fluid) drained out of knee on Monday and it obviously still bothered him," explained Bellotti. "I don't think he felt comfortable striding forward on to it."

Clemens had taken a hit to the knee in the first quarter of the game last week in Berkeley against Cal that caused the fluid build up. Clemens was not the only one dinged up for the Bruins game. Leading wide receiver Demetrius Williams was in street clothes and tight end Tim Day had only a few plays before he called it a day with his bad ankle. Add in Aaron Gipson who sprained his ankle breaking up a scoring pass in the end zone at the end of the first half, and the Ducks may be missing a substantial number of play makers for next week against the Beavers.

The one bright spot for the Ducks was running back Terrence Whitehead who rushed for 124 yards on 14 carries. Whitehead broke the 1,000-yard barrier for rushing this season and now has a total of 1,034 yards of rushing for the year. Rosario was the leading receiver for the day with three catches for 53 yards, Strong and Whitehead also had three grabs.

UCLA was without its star running back Maurice Drew, but no matter. Freshman Chris Markey filled in nicely rushing for 131 yards on 23 carries. White had 82 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. Quarterback Drew Olson was 12-for-22, 215 yards and one touchdown. Olson was sacked three times in the second half by the Oregon defense. Olson also scrambled for a net of 39 yards.

"He did a nice job," said Bellotti of Olson's performance. "We knew he had the capacity to run the ball. I liken him to Kellen (Clemens)."

Markey was also the leading receiver with five catches for 84 yards, but Junior Taylor had the most yards -- 97 yards on two receptions and one touchdown. UCLA's field goal kicker Justin Medlock was 3-for-3 with two kicks of 50 yards and one from 52 yards out.

The Ducks now are down to one game to make the season and it is a big one, the Civil War with Oregon State. Oregon and Oregon State enter the contest with identical records, 5-5, 4-3 in Pac-10 play and one will continue the season on and one won't.

"I can't think of a better situation or opportunity than to go to Corvallis and have your season, your bowl game, everything riding on a game against your natural rival," remarked Bellotti. "That's the way it should be."

Some anxious fans of a program that was talking about a run for a national championship in August might disagree that the season should end like this. The question now is if the Ducks don't beat Oregon State in the finale, how long can the memories of the Fiesta Bowl years sustain this coaching staff?

Kickoff is scheduled next Saturday at Reser Stadium at 4 p.m. and will be carried on Fox Sports.

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