EUGENE, Ore. — The sound of Oregon kicker Anthony Maldonado’s missed field goal bouncing off the left upright in overtime jolted awake college football fans from Palo Alto to Tuscaloosa to South Bend. The screams from the Stanford sideline, after Jordan Williamson booted a 37-yard field goal to beat the top-ranked Ducks, echoed far louder around Autzen Stadium and moved like a sonic boom across the country as the Cardinal pulled off a monster upset that shook up the Pac-12 and national title races.
“I knew I was going to make it,” Williamson said. “Everybody put their hearts out there to keep us in the game. I felt the time was right for me to come out there and help them win.”
After the 17-14 win, players chanted ‘Jordan! Jordan!’ in the locker room. The junior came through in the clutch after missing a 42-yard field goal midway through the 4th quarter. In a game filled with several missed chances for both sides, it was fitting that the program that walked off the turf victorious did so by living up to their motto of the week: resolve.
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“It was about us playing our best football and withstanding a mad rush that we knew we were going to get from a good football team in Oregon,” coach David Shaw said. “We knew some things were going to go against us but we knew we had to stay with the same mentality. That word resolve was important to our defense, to Stepfan Taylor turning the ball over, to a quarterback throwing an interception, to our defense who gave up a big play to their quarterback, to our kicker who missed a kick.
“Our kids kept fighting all the way to the end. We knew if we got into the 4th quarter, we gave ourselves a chance to win and that’s what our guys did.”
Oregon’s high-flying offense was out of rhythm most of the night thanks to a prodding Cardinal defense that snapped the Ducks’ streak of 13 straight games of scoring 42 or more points. With a clear path to the BCS national championship game and their fourth straight Pac-12 title within reach, it appeared as though Oregon would escape after taking the lead in the 3rd quarter on a De’Anthony Thomas touchdown run. Cardinal linebacker Trent Murphy nearly picked off a Marcus Mariota pass a few plays before but the Ducks cobbled together a 16-play, 95-yard scoring drive to take a 14-7 lead.
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It was supposed to be game-over at that point, Oregon moving on to do Oregon things and running away in a big second half. Stanford had other ideas.
“We just kept fighting. This team, we’ve had close games throughout the year and in most of them we’ve come out on top,” linebacker A.J. Tarpley said. “We trusted in each other to do our jobs, defense trusts the offense and the offense trusts the defense. We knew we wanted to get them in a close game and then we kept fighting.”
Fight they did.
Stanford’s defense didn’t allow many big plays and when they did, they were masters in damage control. After Mariota busted a 77-yard run early in the game, Oregon wound up turning the ball over on downs in a red zone stand. In overtime, the Cardinal forced a three-and-out before Maldonado missed his 41-yard attempt in an eerily similar situation to last season in the team’s loss to USC.
The offense stepped up late for Stanford as well. Down by a touchdown late in the 4th quarter, redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan engineered an 11-play, 78-yard drive to tie the game (and take 4:53 off the clock) before finding tight end Zach Ertz just inside the end zone on a beautiful fade pass that will go down in program lore.
“I knew I caught it. I was not really sure if I was in bounds or not,” said Ertz. “The guy made a great play and kind of stuck his hand out there to break it up but the ball bounced my way. It was a great play call by the coaches obviously.”
“It feels great and it’s a great team win. This game was in a tough environment to play in,” Hogan said. “For our seniors, they’ve had a few rough ones the past couple of years and come out on the losing side. To come out on top tonight, for them and for everyone in this program, is great.”
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It was the team’s first win at Autzen since 2001, when they upended an undefeated Oregon with national championship aspirations. In many ways Saturday night was a milestone in the program, proving wrong those that thought Stanford would never be able to sustain success after Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck departed for the NFL. Though it may not have been the best win in school history, it certainly numbered among the most meaningful.
“It’s up there,” Shaw said after the game. “As I told our guys though, we don’t get a trophy for this game.”
That could come in two weeks.
Stanford controls its destiny with regards to the Pac-12 championship and a trip to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl thanks to their win Saturday night. With Oregon failing to clinch the North Division with a win, Stanford heads to UCLA next weekend looking for a victory to capture the division and host the Pac-12 Championship Game.
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“It’s just another game next week,” sophomore linebacker A.J. Tarpley said. “We want to come out and win that no matter what our record is. We have the same mindset coming into the next week. If we so happen to get a chance to win next week and play on, then so be it.”
If the Cardinal lose their final game and the Ducks suffer another defeat in the Civil War, Stanford still will represent the North in the championship game. If Stanford loses at UCLA and Oregon beats Oregon State, Oregon will represent the North.
UCLA, which beat USC 38-28 earlier Saturday, is set to represent the South and return to the Pac-12 Championship Game no matter what happens in the final week of the season. It is possible for the Bruins and Cardinal to play twice within six days.
For now though, Stanford will take 24 hours to celebrate their memorable upset and remember the resolve they showed on a cold night in the Pacific Northwest. Come Monday, that chase for a trophy to raise up begins anew.