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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

There was an Oregon trail in the desert, but time erased it

Arizona was clinging to a 31-24 lead when the Ducks started mounting a final drive in the final minutes. Wildcat fans poured out of the stands in anticipation of a victory that had not yet been won.

November 23, 2009|Chris Dufresne

Time ran out on Arizona against Oregon but also on a columnist trying to chronicle the year's best game (so far) as Saturday night sprinted toward a Sunday newspaper deadline.

Call this the "Extra, extra, read all about it!" spillover edition.

Oregon's 44-41 double-overtime victory in Tucson was remarkable on many offensive and defensive fronts.

Let's start with Oregon holder Nate Costa, the backup quarterback, whose hands should be cast and bronzed for posterity should the Ducks go on to win the Rose Bowl.

Oregon cut the Arizona lead to 31-30 with six seconds left in regulation, needing "only" the extra point to send the game to overtime.

Except Jeff Palmer's center snap skidded to Costa, who somehow maneuvered the ball into position for Morgan Flint to split the uprights.

"It was definitely an interesting moment," Costa recounted afterward to The Oregonian newspaper. "After it went through, Morgan and I looked at each other wide-eyed, like 'wow.' "

What about the tortured sideline shot of Arizona Coach Mike Stoops, whose body went into a contorted spasm as he watched Flint's 43-yard field goal tie the game at 24-all, the ball hitting the crossbar and toppling forward as Stoops toppled over?

"How far was it?" Oregon Coach Chip Kelly asked about Flint's kick after the game.

Told 43 yards, Kelly said, "Well, that's his limit."

There should also be a limit to how much torment Arizona fans should have to endure. The Wildcats were clinging to a 31-24 lead when Oregon started mounting a final drive in the final minutes. Inexplicably, Arizona fans poured out of the stands in anticipation of a victory that had not yet -- by a long shot -- been won.

You wanted to scream, "Fools, don't you know who plays quarterback for Oregon!?"

Still, all Arizona had to do was make one play when Oregon faced fourth and four at the Arizona 22 with 23 seconds left, but that's when Jeremiah Masoli found Jeff Mael for a seven-yard completion that ultimately led to the game-tying touchdown.

Team Tucson, as if cursed, watched every loose ball bounce to its disadvantage.

Arizona held Oregon to 14 points through three quarters only to have Masoli finish with six touchdowns, three passing and three rushing.

How could this happen? Oregon scored 30 points after the third quarter, with Masoli working magic back of center, his deft ball fakes making professional cameramen look like drunken sailors filming their annual flag-football game.

Masoli's name doesn't get mentioned much in the Heisman race, and he's not likely to play a down at quarterback in the NFL because the league doesn't draft human bowling balls, yet there is no more commanding player in the college game right now.

Because of Masoli, and a lucky bounce, and a saved snap on an extra point, and a sky that keeps falling on Arizona football, the Ducks play host to Oregon State on Dec. 3 with the winner going to the Rose Bowl.

Never in the annals of the Civil War has the game had this kind of meaning.

Arizona sacrificed sweat and blood to keep it from meaning that much, but when has Pac-10 history ever been on its side?

Weekend wrap

* Freshman quarterbacks and why they get you killed. Combined statistics for first-year freshman starters Tate Forcier (Michigan) and Matt Barkley (USC) the last two weeks in home defeats: two touchdown passes, seven interceptions and two lost fumbles. And, as good as Stanford redshirt freshman Andrew Luck has been this year, his late interception near the California goal line cost the Cardinal a chance to win the Big Game.

* What was his motivation? Cal quarterback Kevin Riley after the Bears' 34-28 win: "Yeah, that's all you've been hearing all week, Stanford's going to the Rose Bowl," Riley said. "They're going to beat us."

* What a way to go out. Texas Coach Mack Brown called time out late in a runaway win over Kansas so quarterback Colt McCoy and receiver Jordan Shipley could exit the game to thunderous applause on senior night. McCoy recorded his NCAA-record 43rd victory as a starting quarterback.

* Comparative scores, for what it's worth: Texas Christian, which is trailing Texas in the polls, won at Wyoming on Saturday by the final score of 45-10. Texas played at Wyoming on Sept. 12 and won, 41-10.

* A few names Notre Dame might consider if it's looking to replace its football coach, in order of priority phone-call importance: Urban Meyer (Florida), Brian Kelly (Cincinnati), Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Butch Davis (North Carolina), Al Golden (Temple). What Golden has done is remarkable, taking a program on the verge of extinction to the brink of the Mid-American Conference title. The Owls are 9-2 and can clinch a spot in the MAC title game with a win over Ohio on Friday.

* The USC hangover effect? The Trojans can't win the Pac-10 this year, but their influence has been felt. Washington beat USC and lost the next week to Stanford. Oregon beat USC and lost its next game to Stanford. Stanford beat USC and lost its next game to Cal. So if UCLA beats USC this week, expect the Bruins to lose their bowl game.

* It's not how you start that counts: Michigan began 4-0 and lost seven of its last eight; Kansas has lost six straight after a 5-0 start; Auburn has dropped four of its last six after starting 5-0. Conversely, Nevada has won eight straight after starting 0-3.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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