Ducks win thriller in overtime, 27-20

Eugene, Ore. - When they absolutely, positively had to have it – they called in a guy from Montana. Back up sophomore quarterback Brady Leaf, from Great Falls, Montana, came into the overtime period and threw his first touchdown pass of the year to James Finley. The pass and catch meant the 13th ranked Oregon Ducks won a thrilling 27-20 game over the California Golden Bears in easily the worst weather conditions at Autzen Stadium in years.

(PHOTO) California quarterback Joe Ayoob (18) holds his head after throwing an incomplete pass to end his team's overtime drive as Oregon players Matt Toeaina (45) and Kwame Aygeman (30) celebrate in Eugene, Ore., Nov. 5, 2005. Oregon defeated California 27-20 in overtime. (Ryan Gardner)

"A win like that validates what you do as a team and belief in ourselves," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti of the win. "Our motto is ‘Finish the Game' and I told them I didn't know how many quarters it would take, but we did it and that was an awesome job."

The win means the Ducks improve their record to 8-1, 5-1 in the Pac-10 race and make an important step up in the possibilities of what bowl they may appear in post season.

Leaf, filled in for starting quarterback Dennis Dixon for parts of the second half of the game, and just before the clock expired in the fourth quarter sending the game into the extra session, Leaf was told by offensive coordinator Gary Crowton to get ready to play in overtime. For the second game in a row, Leaf responded by making the critical plays when he most needed to. Cal won the toss for overtime and elected to go on defense first. During that overtime possession, Leaf hit four critical passes including the touchdown and ended overtime 4-of-5.

"It was a rush. It was fun," said Leaf of the overtime. "That's the first time I've been in an overtime game and I got the call.

The Ducks first play in overtime was a handoff to Terrence Whitehead for 2-yards and on the next snap, Leaf found tight end Tim Day for an 8-yard gain. Leaf followed that play up with another 9-yard pass completion to Finley for a first down. Leaf then completed a 3-yard gainer to Whitehead. His only incomplete pass came next to Demetrius Williams, but on third and goal at the 4-yardline, Leaf calmly hit Finley again in the endzone for the eventual winning score.

"I dropped back and James (Finley) came open," described Leaf of the final Oregon offensive play. "It was my first touchdown pass and his first touchdown catch."

It couldn't have come at a better time for Oregon as Cal came back on the field needing to score a touchdown. However, on four straight snaps Cal could only muster a 2-yard rush by Marshawn Lynch, and three incomplete passes by Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob.

"It's about making plays against a top-20 team in their home…we've got to make those type of plays," said California's head coach Jeff Tedford. "Oregon is a good football team with lots of talent and it's a great place to play…I congratulate them."

The game was a seesaw event that saw the Ducks jump out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 23-yard pass from Dixon to Demetrius Williams. Cal responded when the Bears blocked Matt Dragich's punt as he attempted to kick from Oregon's own endzone. The ball went out of bounds on the 1. Marshawn Lynch came in and punched the ball in and the game was tied after the Cal point after. The two teams traded field goals in the second quarter and the game was tied at halftime, 10-10. Oregon built a 10-point lead in the third quarter, 20-10, but Cal managed to shut the Ducks down in the fourth quarter and score 10 straight points.

Meanwhile, the wind and rain continued to pound down on the 58,309 fans on hand, but regardless of the cold, miserable conditions, the spirit of the crowd was as loud as it been since the days of Gang Green or the Fiesta Bowl team of 2001.

With the game tied at 20 entering the fourth quarter, the two teams traded possessions, unable to get into scoring position, but in the final two minutes of the quarter it looked very much like Cal could get into position to kick a field goal. The Bears were able to get off a last-second attempt as regulation time expired, but the kick missed.

"I sprinted out there as fast as I could, got it up and it started down the middle and then faded slowly," Cal place kicker Tom Schneider described of the last 47-yard field goal attempt from Oregon's 37. "It was heart breaking and kind of disappointing."

Dixon started the game off and played well, considering this was his first start. He was 15-for-26, 139 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Most of Dixon's passing yardage came in the first quarter when the weather conditions were a bit more allowing. Leaf finished the game, 9-of-13, 93 yards and the touchdown. Last game against Arizona, Leaf played most of the second half after senior Kellen Clemens was lost with a broken ankle and Dixon was knocked out with a concussion, and for the second time in crunch time, Leaf came through. This does beg the question of who is the starter next week.

"I would say yes," responded Bellotti to the question if Dixon is still the starter. "But I would say Brady has earned time."

The Ducks were more productive than Cal on offense racking up a total of 375 yards offense to 301 yards for California. It was no surprise given the weather conditions that the rushing game for both teams would be important and California's Lynch met all expectations of one other nation's best on Saturday by rushing for 189 yards net on 25 carries and scoring two touchdowns. Terrence Whitehead broke the 100-yard mark for Oregon with 119 yards net on 20 carries and one score. Whitehead was also the leading receiver for Oregon with 72 yards on eight catches. Finley had a total of six catches for 47 yards and Dee Williams had three grabs for 46 yards and a touchdown. Oregon place kicker had two field goals of 29 and 49 yards, and Cal's Schnider had two field goals of 21 and 45 yards.

"That 49-yarder made it by 49-yards and a foot," said Bellotti of Martinez's last successful kick. "That was the length that we had determined prior to the game that he could kick the ball. He did it and my hat is off to him."

Martinez had missed the last two games due to injury.

While much has been made about the Oregon offense, the Oregon defense stood ground several times in the fourth quarter and more importantly in overtime by not allowing Cal to move the ball. Cal entered the game as the No 2 rushing offense in the Pac-10 and while Lynch rushed for 189, his teammate Justin Forsett was held to 32 yards, well below his 108-yard per game season average. Ayoob was made ineffective and only managed to pass for 88 yards on 10-of-23 and gave up three interceptions. Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was the leading tackler for the day with 11 (4 solo, 7 assists), including one tackle for loss and two pass break ups. Linebacker Blair Phillips had 9 tackles (4 solo, 5 assists), two for loss (one sack) one quarterback hurry and an interception. Aaron Gipson and Rodney Woods also recorded a pick. Linebacker Anthony Trucks forced and recovered a fumble and had two sacks.

"It feels really good," said Ngata of the defensive effort. "It seems more fun every week. We (the Oregon defensive unit) enjoy being together. We know that whomever the quarterback is, we'll get the job done. We trust each other."

With the loss, California drops to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the Pac-10 race.

Next up for the Ducks is Washington State at Pullman in potential weather conditions worse than the Ducks played in on Saturday.

"I think that this weather today really helped us prepare for that," said Bellotti of next week's game and possible climatic effect. "Although I'm sure it will be a little different up there."

The chance for a special season continues as the Ducks now have overcome the third team ranked in the top-25 at the when the Ducks played them. By beating the 23rd ranked Bears, Oregon now faces the two final challenges to the 2005 regular season campaign, Washington State and Oregon State. The Ducks on Saturday also answered the question of what are they without Kellen Clemens, and the answer is a winner in overtime. The Ducks now go to Pullman where another guy from Great Falls, Montana used to play and is sort of considered a legend – Ryan Leaf, Brady's older brother, and it could be a hat trick of three wins in a row if the Ducks absolutely, positively need Brady Leaf to be the finisher.

Kickoff for the Washington State game is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. and the game will be carried on Fox Sports Northwest.

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