EUGENE — They’ll point to this game.
Because of its natural place as the first overtime game in a heated border rivalry dating back to 1900, the first win against Washington for Mario Cristobal and depending on how Oregon’s season goes, perhaps as a turning point for a historic run and sign of things to come in the immediate future.
In an instant classic, No. 17 Oregon and No. 7 Washington dueled Saturday at Autzen Stadium in a back-and-forth slugfest before an electric sellout crowd of 58,691, many of whom rushed the field after the 30-27 overtime win to celebrate ending a two-game skid in the series that the Huskies won in dominant fashion.
“I think we’re tired of getting our butts kicked by them,” Oregon guard Shane Lemieux said. “Especially being a Washington guy as well, I grew up in that neck of the woods, and hearing ‘bow down’ and all that kind of stuff really got to me, especially leading up to this game.”
The rivals exchanged the lead four times before CJ Verdell, who had 29 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns, punched in the game-winner on third and goal from six yards out.
“Coach Cristobal told us that we were a downhill team and we’re going to keep running downhill,” Verdell said. “The play call came in … I was glad that the coaches put the trust in me to run the ball (on) third and six and we executed and I got in. Thanks to the O-line, that hole was big.”
The game-winning score wouldn’t have been possible without heroics from Justin Herbert and Dillon Mitchell three plays earlier, as the Ducks faced third and 11 from the 26 and would’ve needed a long field goal to tie if they failed to convert. But the Ducks quarterback found his top target for 18 yards.
Washington kicker Peyton Henry also missed a 37-yard field goal attempt as time expired in regulation to send the game to overtime. Henry’s miss came after two timeouts by Oregon and he actually missed the first attempt, made the second and missed the third try, which counted, wide right.
Oregon senior defensive end Jalen Jelks said it was a “big roller coaster” of emotions at the end of regulation.
“It’s something you watched since you were a kid, Monday Night Football, and you always ask yourself, why do you ice the kicker? Why do you actually do that?” Cristobal said. “We have a timeout, I’m going to keep doing that, that’s for sure. You don’t have any other plays; it’s kick it or not and just kept playing, just kept believing. We thought we could get some good push too, try to get a block on that thing, but it worked out well for us.”
Oregon (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) was able to consistently pressure Washington quarterback Jake Browning (15 of 25 for 243 yards with a touchdown and interception) and essentially took top target Aaron Fuller out of the game, limiting him to just two catches for 15 yards.
Meanwhile Herbert (18 of 32 for 202 yards with two touchdowns) was able to regularly connect with Mitchell (eight catches for 119 yards and a touchdown) and made a stellar nine-yard touchdown throw to Jaylon Redd at the edge of the end zone to tie the game at 17-17 at the end of the first half.
“It happened so fast when I got my foot down,” said Redd, who had three receptions for 33 yards. “I didn’t even know if I was in or out, I was just happy to make a play.”
Oregon, which also overcame injuries to starting left tackle Penei Sewell and right guard Dallas Warmack, regained the lead on a one-yard run by Verdell with 5:59 to go in the third but Washington responded on the ensuing drive as Browning found Ty Jones for a 43-yard score.
Calvin Throckmorton, who like Lemieux is from Washington state, appreciated the significance of beating the Huskies.
“It’s truly special just seeing how hard our guys have worked for this and doing (it) for the groups of players and fans that have come before us that have really built a foundation for this program,” Throckmorton said. “Trying to honor them with how we’re playing.”
The win puts Oregon in position to be the top-ranked team in the Pac-12 next week and a potential dark horse for the College Football Playoff.
But that is for another day. For Saturday, Cristobal deflected attention or accolades to his players and staff and thanked the yellow- and green-clad masses that made for a deafening environment.
“This was for our fan base, for the future of the program, for the season, for the Pac-12 race,” Cristobal said. “It was immense and it’s only Week 6.”