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Oregon Going to Pasadena : College football: O'Neil rallies team to 17-13 victory for Ducks' first Rose Bowl berth since 1958.

November 20, 1994|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CORVALLIS, Ore. — It was a simple screen pass from Danny O'Neil, like so many others that Oregon tailback Dino Philyaw had caught before, yet it was unlike any other Philyaw would ever grab out of the air.

It was a pass Philyaw never will forget, because it was the one that launched the Ducks to a 17-13 comeback victory over archrival Oregon State on Saturday and gave them their first outright Pacific 10 championship and a Rose Bowl berth.

"I saw everybody make their blocks," Philyaw said, "and it was like the Red Sea parting."

Thanks to key blocks by tight end Josh Wilcox and linemen Mark Gregg and Eric Reid, a path opened for Philyaw to run 19 yards untouched. Buoyed by the resilience of their offense, the Ducks' "Gang Green" defense lived up to its name.

After holding the Beavers to 221 yards rushing, 60 yards below their average, the Oregon defense pressured Beaver quarterback Don Shanklin into throwing three incomplete passes from the 21-yard line as the clock ticked down the final seconds. That last, fervent stand touched off a mad celebration for the Duck fans among the 37,010 jammed into Parker Stadium, sending them rushing onto the field to bring down the goal posts.

"Honestly, I was kind of praying to the Lord upstairs at that point," Philyaw said. "I knew we were going to get there, but I knew the game was going to be dramatic. It was a little too dramatic for me."

It was among the most dramatic games they've played since the teams' first "Civil War" in 1894.

Oregon fans, anticipating their team's first New Year's trip to Pasadena since 1958, roared their approval at each announcement that USC was trailing UCLA in Pasadena because they knew the Ducks would still go to the Rose Bowl as long as USC lost.

But when Shanklin sneaked in from the one-yard line to give Oregon State a 13-10 lead with 6:01 left in the third quarter--and USC pulled closer to UCLA--they began to fear another Duck failure.

Not to worry, this time. O'Neil rallied the Ducks (9-3, 7-1 in the Pac-10) for the third time in five games, capped by a five-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Philyaw's catch and run with 3:43 to play.

"Oregon teams aren't supposed to go to the Rose Bowl. No one expected this, and that's why this team had to come together," said O'Neil, who previously engineered comebacks over Washington and Arizona in leading Oregon to its first six-game winning streak since 1964.

"In the fourth quarter today, we showed what this team is made of. I told everyone (the Beavers) would come to play, and they played hard defensively. But we stepped up and did it."

They did it because Cristin McLemore, who was taken to Oregon State's student health services building in the third quarter for X-rays of his bruised left hand, insisted on coming back for the fourth quarter despite a painfully bruised and swollen hand.

On his first play back, an incomplete pass, "I landed right on my butt," he said. But on the next series, he caught passes of 31 yards, four yards and 21 yards as the Ducks marched up field for the winning score.

"I looked at their head trainer and said, 'I don't hate you guys too much. Thanks for helping me,' because they were hustling to get me back in there," said McLemore, who caught four passes for 73 yards.

"Driving through campus (to the medical facility), wearing an Oregon uniform, I was hearing people yell at me. I almost fell off the cart a few times. They were yelling at me and cussing and it got me angry. I played with a little bit of anger when I went back in."

His teammates shared that anger, having watched several pregame shows that picked the Beavers (4-7, 2-6) to pull off an upset Saturday.

And for a while, those predictions seemed justified. Although Oregon scored first, on an 18-yard pass to Philyaw in the first quarter, Oregon State's staunch defense kept O'Neil from staging the kinds of aerial shows he put on last week against Stanford (339 passing yards and six touchdowns) and the previous week, when he passed for 234 yards against Arizona in three quarters.

"The ups and downs and the momentum swings were really frustrating," said Beaver halfback Cameron Reynolds. "When we needed to move the ball, we showed we could. . . . There was no point where either side said, 'We've got this game wrapped up.' "

Oregon State's Chris Cross recovered a blocked punt for its first score, with 12:29 to play in the second quarter, but Randy Lund missed the extra point. Matt Belden missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt for Oregon but later made a 34-yarder to give Oregon a 10-6 lead at the half.

The Beavers went ahead on an eight-play, 65-yard drive, sparked by short-yardage runs from J.J. Young and fullback J.D. Stewart. That's when O'Neil, McLemore and Philyaw took over.

"I knew it was going to be a great game with key plays that would win it, and Oregon made those plays," Oregon State Coach Jerry Pettibone said. "I was proud of the way we tried to come back and compete at the end. If we would have competed that pass (from Shanklin to Joe Douglass) at the end, it would have been a storybook ending, but credit goes to Oregon. . . . I know they'll be a class representative at the Rose Bowl."

As the Ducks celebrated, still clutching roses given them by Coach Rich Brooks when he was officially invited to Pasadena by a member of the Rose Bowl committee, they were still getting used to the idea of being Pac-10 champions.

"It's a dream come true," said O'Neil, who was 11 for 25 for 173 yards. "Doing this as a comeback, and against Oregon State, makes it so great."

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