Oregon had opened the contest up with a 69-yard touchdown pass and catch from Fife to Samie Parker on the third play of the game. Fresno State could have rolled over and called it a day, considering they played without their starting quarterback Jeff Grady. However Grady's replacement Paul Pinegar and the rest of the "Giant Killer" Bulldogs of Fresno State were determined to show they are a quality program. Despite being intercepted on FSU's first offensive possession, the Bulldogs managed to force a punt and on the next possession Pinegar quickly directed a scoring drive on a three play to tie up the contest. FSU's defense stiffened through second half and the Ducks found themselves trailing at the half.
The third quarter proved to be more of the same for the Bulldogs and for the Ducks and their fans, a trip down a very familiar path was starting to unfold. The Ducks came out of halftime fired up and on FSU's first possession of the third quarter, Oregon junior Keith Lewis blocked a Jason Simpson punt. The ball squirted through the end zone for a safety and the Ducks were down 17-12. Oregon managed to start a productive drive on the ensuing free kick, but could only muster a field goal, cutting the score to 17-15. Just when it looked as though the Ducks were picking up momentum, Pinegar led an impressive drive of nine plays and driving 70 yards then scoring FSU's 24th point of the contest.
Oregon needed to make up nine points and in the waning moments of the third period the Ducks found themselves on the FSU 2-yard line when the quarter ended. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Oregon junior running back Onterrio Smith plowed into the end zone and with the point after the Bulldog lead was cut to 24-22. The next three possessions proved to be a holding pattern as the defenses for both teams stepped up and stopped the offenses from successfully driving the ball in for any score. Then it seemed the Ducks were poised to move the ball down field and score.
Trailing by two points, with 4:25 showing on the clock, Fife fumbled the ball on the FSU 7-yard line. In the stands, the Duck fans' hope began to falter. On the Duck sideline though, the team rallied around Fife.
"I felt pretty down about it," said Fife, speaking of the fumble. "When I came to the sidelines my teammates picked me up."
Fife said after the game that his teammates demonstrated a faith in him and in Oregon football. The offensive players looked to their defensive teammates to get the ball back for them, and that is exactly what the Oregon defense did. Fresno State managed to move the ball from the FSU 7-yard line to their own 22-yard line, get a first down and burn up over two minutes of the game clock. The Oregon defense stiffened and caused the ball to be punted. Oregon senior Keenan Howry had a 23-yard return and Fife had a chance to redeem himself starting at the FSU 43-yard line. Fife hit Parker twice on passes of 22 and 12 yards. Then the ball then went to Smith. Smith first carried the ball seven yards then on the next carry from two yards out, Smith powered into the end zone for his second touch down of the afternoon and what would turn out to be the final scoring.
"We needed to try to overcome some adversities," said a relieved Bellotti after the game. "To make sure we cemented that feeling of what this team can do, what this program can accept."
Bellotti thought that the game proved to his team what they are capable of doing on the field. Even though the coach would prefer not to have to rely on a comeback to win a contest, he thought it important for his players, particularly the new players to know they are capable of winning a game that seems to be out of reach. Bellotti also thought that the Oregon defense put on a stellar performance as evident by the fourth quarter shutout of the Fresno State offense.
"I'm very proud of our defense," said Bellotti. "They played an exceptional football game."
Freshman Haloti Ngata, who was considered to be the best defensive lineman prospect in the nation last year saw his first playing time against Fresno State. Ngata, 6-4, 330 was in on several series and was in the game for most of the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Ngata had one pass deflection and one assisted tackle. Ngata's performance caught Bellotti's eye. Bellotti noticed Ngata can push the pocket and can not be handled one-on-one.
"He (Ngata) can play off the blocks and rush to the ball and he is 330 pounds," said Bellotti. "There are some things there to like."
Fresno State ended the game with a total of 109 net yards rushing. Pinager was 16 for 36 and 201 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Fife ended the game 19 for 34 for 303 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. Parker had nine catches for 161 yards and one touchdown. Smith had 124 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Oregon senior linebacker David Moretti recorded 13 tackles, including five solo tackles and eight assisted tackles and one sack. Fife was sacked five times. The Ducks improved their season record to 2-0 while Fresno State is now 1-2 for the season.
"Onterrio Smith showed up in a big way today, " said Bellotti.
Smith for his part may have shown even more of how important he is to his team. When Fife came to the sidelines after fumbling the ball late in the fourth quarter, Smith told him to not worry about it and that they (the offense would get it back.) Smith was undaunted by the task and in his mind as long as there is time and the Ducks are within scoring range, the Ducks always have a chance to win.
"Losing," said Smith, "doesn't cross my mind."
Fife was bolstered by teammates' support. Fife said that he also talked to offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig who encouraged him. Parker who was Fife's favorite receiver for the afternoon offered what he thinks is the secret to all the Oregon comeback success. Parker believes it is the Oregon defense that gives the Oregon offense to chance to score. Parker has great faith in the Oregon defense.
"That is why Joey (Harrington) was 'Captain-Comeback," said Parker. "Because the defense would give us the opportunity to go out there and make the comeback."
Bellotti also thinks that there is great harmony and faith between the offensive and defensive units. He said that both units believe in the talent and strengths of their teammates.
"You don't see any finger pointing on the sideline." Said Bellotti speaking of the lack on conflict between the offensive and defensive units.
Fife views the game as an experience to build on. He is looking ahead to practice this up coming week where he will be sure to work on securing the ball when he is the ball carrier. More importantly though, he and his teammates know what they can do when they face great adversity.
"To know we can do it if we have to," said Fife. "To know that no matter whose in, when the chips are down, the offense is going to go down and score."
Naturally, making a great comeback in a game is a result of many factors including great plays by several players. Smith seemed to get stronger in the fourth quarter as he closed out his second consecutive 100 yard plus rushing day. Parker made several incredible catches including a one handed grab that kept a drive alive in the third quarter. Fife faced the ghost of his predecessor's achievements and in the final two minutes of the FSU game, when the passes had to be right on the mark Fife was on target.
Next week the Ducks will face the Idaho Vandals and their quarterback Michael Harrington, Joey's brother. Fife will work on his game during practice and know he may have the inside track on what it takes to bring a team back. At the end of the day on September 7th, Fife found his own comeback in his own courage.
Bellotti indicated there were no serious injuries. He said that Tim Day had a mild sprain of the shoulder - should be fine this week. He also said Matt Floberg suffered a mild concussion but was able to stay in the game.