This is No. 7 on Golden Gate Sports’ list of the Top 10 Bay Area Sports Stories of 2012. For a quick reminder, please read No. 8.
It was a cold, wet November night in Eugene, Oregon and ESPN’s College Game Day was in town. The Pac-12 North was at stake and the Oregon Ducks were sitting pretty at No. 2 in the nation after a brilliant 10-0 start.
The Ducks were hot, and had only lost one home game since Chip Kelly took over as head coach in 2009. However, the Stanford Cardinal had won four straight games themselves after a heartbreaking (and to some controversial) overtime loss to Notre Dame, and entered Autzen Stadium at No. 13 in the nation.
Even so, the experts all seemed to be picking Oregon, and the odds did look to be in the Ducks’ favor. Kelly’s squad had out-dueled the Cardinal in each of the previous two seasons by a combined margin of 44 points. Oregon also boasted one of the top offenses in the country behind dynamic quarterback Marcus Mariota and speedy running back Kenjon Barner.
On top of that, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan was making only his second career start. It didn’t help that the setting was Autzen Stadium, one of the most hostile environments in the country, against a quick and athletic Oregon defense.
Despite these issues, the Cardinal presented some intriguing matchups. Their impenetrable run defense (ranked first in the nation at the time, allowing only 55 yards per game) was heading up against Oregon’s potent hurry-up rushing attack. The Ducks’ fast defensive ends and aggressive pass-rushing linebackers had also not faced an offensive line or ground attack quite as strong as that of Stanford.
Plus, although it was only Hogan’s second career start, his first start had come in the form of a 27-23 victory over No. 15 Oregon State a week earlier where he threw three touchdown passes.
The stage was set for a big game. Two top teams with opposing styles of play clashing to dictate the layout of the Pac-12: If Oregon won, they would clinch the North division and play UCLA for the conference championship. If Stanford won, they would control their own destiny and have to beat UCLA the next week to clinch the division.
The stakes were high and the nation was ready for a great game. These two teams did not disappoint.
It appeared as though Oregon would strike first, as Mariota turned a first down scramble into a 77-yard gain. He would have turned it into a touchdown if not for a missed block by De’Anthony Thomas and an excellent hustle play by safety Devon Carrington to make the tackle.
The Cardinal defense held strong and eventually stopped the Ducks on fourth and one from Stanford’s seven-yard line when Shayne Skov made an excellent tackle on Mariota to give the ball back his team.
Hogan made the most of his opportunity, leading his squad down the field on an excellent drive that culminated in his own one-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
Oregon managed to tie the game up with three minutes remaining in the first half when Mariota hit Keanon Lowe on a deep post for a 28-yard touchdown pass. In an uncharacteristically low-scoring half for the Ducks, the teams went into the break tied at seven.
The home crowd in Autzen Stadium remained calm at the half; after all, Oregon was a notorious second half team due in large part to Kelly’s effective half time adjustments. However, the Ducks never pulled away as the Stanford defense remained strong and Hogan kept moving the ball.
Oregon did manage to take a 14-7 lead in the third quarter when De’Anthony Thomas scored on a six-yard touchdown run. However, they failed to extend their lead due to several missed opportunities, including a missed field goal, and a strong Stanford defense.
Stanford’s offense also struggled to score in the second half, missing a field goal of their own. Hogan eventually hit Zach Ertz who came up with a gorgeous catch in the back of the end zone from 10 yards out to tie the game at 14 late in regulation and send the game to overtime.
The Cardinal defense once again came through for their team in overtime, forcing Oregon to kick a field goal. Alejandro Maldonado missed his second field goal of the game and Stanford had their opportunity to win the game.
Disaster almost struck when Kiko Alonso stripped the ball from Hogan on the team’s second overtime play. However, the Cardinal dodged a bullet when the Ducks failed to recover the ball and keep their hopes alive.
Two plays later, Jordan Williamson nailed a 37-yard field goal to give Stanford the 17-14 win and the top spot in the Pac-12 North.
Running back Stepfan Taylor was amazing for the Cardinal all night. He rushed for 161 yards, 79 of which came after contact.
On the other side of the ball, Stanford’s strong run defense held Oregon’s third-ranked rushing offense to only 198 yards, and 77 of those yards came on Mariota’s long scramble in the first quarter alone.
Kevin Hogan for the second week in a row put down a ranked divisional opponent, proving himself to be one of the most valuable players in the Pac-12.
Coming into the season at No. 20, the Cardinal climbed their way up to the top ten after beating USC and Oregon, everyone’s preseason picks to clash for the conference title at the end of the season.
Stanford’s win over Oregon cemented their place at the top of not only the conference standings, but the national standings as well. After beating UCLA in back to back weeks, the Cardinal have won the Pac-12 and will represent the conference in the Rose Bowl on January 1st against Wisconsin, thanks in large part to this win over the Ducks.
Stay tuned as we continue our countdown on December 21 with No. 6 on our Top 10 Bay Area Sports Stories of 2012.