SHREVEPORT, La. — Wake Forest Coach Bill Dooley said his Demon Deacons would need a mistake-free game in the Poulan Weed Eater Independence Bowl to beat Oregon.
He was wrong.
Wake Forest committed six turnovers and the Ducks took a 19-point lead, then rallied for a 39-35 victory Thursday, sending Dooley into retirement with the school's first bowl victory since 1946.
"Credit Oregon's defense for our poor first half performance," Dooley said. "But we came in at halftime and settled down and said, 'Hey, let's play like we're capable and execute.' In the second half we played error-free football, and we won."
Wide receiver Bobby Jones hit Todd Dixon with a 61-yard touchdown pass with 12:02 remaining to give the Deacons the lead for good. They scored 29 unanswered points in 13:35 to become the third team to win the Independence Bowl after trailing at the half.
"It was two different football games today. We won the first one and they won the second one, they just scored more points in the second one," Oregon Coach Rich Brooks said.
"We came out in the second half and got outplayed. They kicked our fannies all over the field."
Dixon caught five passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns and was named offensive player of the game. Oregon's Herman O'Berry, who forced two fumbles, recovered them both and ran one 24 yards for a touchdown--he also had an interception--was the defensive player of the game.
Oregon led, 29-10, with 9:43 left in the third quarter, and the Wake Forest offense wasn't moving the ball--it had a net gain of minus-7 in its previous six possessions.
But Dooley had a few tricks left. He had John Leach lateral to John Henry Mills on the kickoff, and Mills returned it from the six to the 35.
The drive faltered, but the Demon Deacons (8-4) were motivated.
"(At halftime) Dooley saw we were down and told us he knew we could do better," Dixon said. "He built up our enthusiasm."
On their next possession, Keith West led the Deacons 61 yards, completing a 35-yard pass to Mills, giving them a first down at the one before Ned Moultrie took it in a play later.
They forced Oregon (6-6) to punt, and on the next play Leach broke down the sideline for 48 yards, to the Oregon 31. Three plays later, West threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Dixon to make it 29-24.
Despite missing some action in the first quarter because of a jammed finger, Dixon set a bowl record with 166 receiving yards.
The 74 points scored also set a record for the Independence Bowl, as did the 39 points for the winning team.
West completed 15 of 27 passes for 262 yards. Oregon quarterback Danny O'Neil completed 24 of 40 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
O'Berry's first-quarter fumble-recovery touchdown gave Oregon a 13-6 lead, and Alex Molden carried an interception in from the eight to make it 29-10 with 9:43 left in the third quarter.
"I can't remember a game when two defensive touchdowns didn't result in a win," Brooks said.
Oregon was shut out from 4:44 in the third quarter until O'Neil's pass to Ronnie Harris with a minute left made it 39-35. But the two-point conversion and ensuing onside kick both failed.