No. 37: Opening act

Sure, Stanford had won its shockers in 2007, stunning 41-point favorite USC, 24-23, and 13.5-point favorite Cal, 20-13, but the team went just 4-8 that year. In 2008, the squad went 5-6, without any marquee wins. Were the upsets just a fluke, the seeming improvement just a temporary blimp? A 2009 tilt against No. 8 Oregon would tell the tale.

We continue our ambitious offseason series, counting down the top 40 moments of the Harbaugh/ Shaw era.

No matter how you slice it, Stanford football has arrived. Though we've since assumed all the trappings of a football powerhouse – the three straight runner-up finishes in Heisman voting, the two straight BCS bowl berths and top-10 finishes, the top-ten 2012 recruiting class, or the eminent graduation of top pro prospect of the last decade – it wasn't that long ago that Stanford football was an afterthought.

On December 19, 2006, new athletic director Bob Bowlsby hired Jim Harbaugh, a former star quarterback, but an unproven coach who had never worked at the FBS level. The rest, as they say, was history.

We are pleased present Stanford football's 40 most memorable moments, trends, games and personalities from the magical five-plus years that followed that December 2006 announcement.

37. Opening act
2009 win over Oregon proves Stanford had arrived, launches a November to remember

Stanford entered the contest at a crossroads. They sat a respectable 5-3 overall and 4-2 in the conference, but with Oregon, USC, Notre Dame and California to close the season, unranked Stanford would have to topple a favorite in order to snap its seven-year bowl drought.

Meanwhile, with their only loss the season opener at Boise State, No. 8 Oregon sat at 7-1 and on the fringes of the BCS title discussion. Plus, the Ducks were a week removed from a defining win that, in real time and in retrospect, analysts flagged as the end of one era and the beginning of another. The Ducks had shredded then-No. 5 USC, 47-20, on the strength of 613 rushing yards. Thus it was a mark of respect that, at home, Stanford was only a touchdown underdog.

The oddsmakers were onto something though. In the first half, Owen Marecic would pound it in from two yards out and Toby Gerhart would run for two short touchdowns – dragging a defender the final four yards for one of those scores. Andrew Luck faked a handoff to Gerhart and found James Dray on a right-to-left drag for an eight-yard touchdown. All told, Stanford scored the game's first ten points and built a 31-14 halftime lead. However, given the capabilities of Oregon's offense, with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and a wunderkind freshman named LaMichael James running the show, it was anyone's guess if that margin would be enough.

As expected, the Ducks came out firing in the second half, but Stanford kept pace. Masoli found Jamere Holland on a 40-yard strike, but Luck responded with a touchdown bomb to Chris Owusu. 38-21, Stanford. Jeremiah Masoli took it in from three. Toby Gerhart responded, running it in from 17. 45-28.

Gerhart would finish with 223 yards on 38 carries and three touchdowns and, just as importantly, helped the Cardinal hang onto the ball for 37:43. Stanford would gain 505 yards on the afternoon, Oregon would march for 570 and the squads would combine for 93 points, but despite all those gaudy numbers, it may have been a defensive play that turned the game. It was still 45-28 as the third quarter drew to a close, and Oregon faced a fourth and three at Stanford's 39. The Ducks had scored touchdowns on two of their three possessions of the quarter, equaling their entire first half output, and Stanford's defense was visibly tiring. If Ron Lynn's unit couldn't muster a stop here, this game was likely headed toward a photo finish, as the Duck attack was growing more potent by the drive. (Sure enough, the Ducks would score touchdowns on their remaining two possessions of the game.)

But though Oregon's offense had most of the answers in the second half, Stanford stumped them when it mattered most. In a gutsy call, safety Michael Thomas blitzed on the fateful fourth and short. The aggression paid off, as Thomas dropped Masoli at the 40, allowing Stanford to start the fourth quarter up 17 with the ball. By the time Oregon tried to mount its fourth quarter rally, it was too little, too late.

The Cardinal added two field goals in the final period and ate enough clock to choke the life out of the game. When the final horn sounded, the scoreboard read 51-42, and after seven long years, Stanford's students could finally rush the field.

Instead of managing to steal one of their four November contests, the Oregon game would launch Stanford to a 3-1 November. The next week brought the 55-21 "what's your deal" win over USC, the season finale was Toby Gerhart breaking Notre Dame's back, 45-38, and the lone loss was nearly a win too: the woudda-coudda-shoudda-run-Toby heartbreaker against Cal, 34-28.

Stanford had lost seven straight to Oregon before the 2009 season, and Oregon has accounted for two of Stanford's three losses since, so Cardinal fans should savor this win against the Pac-10 Pac-12's best team of the last five years.

Here are highlights.


Previous
50-41. More memorable moments - Loukas, a lot of Luck, and a phantom clipping call
40. Fake out - Luck stuns UW with a naked bootleg in 2010
39. Polls and bowls - Stanford climbs into college football's beauty contests
38. Steamrolled - Card run for 446 yards in 2011 beatdown of Washington


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