October 26th, 2019; A night in which two streaks that had been years in the making were put to rest.
The Oregon Ducks held on to beat the Washington State Cougars in the late hours of Saturday night at Autzen Stadium, using a 26-yard field goal from Camden Lewis to pull out a 37-35 victory as time expired. The ball sailed through the uprights in the east endzone of Rich Brooks Field, the crowd erupted, players and fans rushed the field, and a couple of streaks finally saw an end in the history books.
For the first time in four years, the Ducks were able to get a win over Mike Leach and the Cougars, and for the first time in over three years, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert failed to throw a touchdown pass, ending his run of 35-straight games.
"To trade it for a win, there's no better feeling," Herbert said after the postgame celebration. "We got a win, and I think that's the most important thing. It's too bad that we couldn't keep it going, but I'm happy with a win any day."
Oregon will take a win over a Pac-12 rival any day, but for a span of about 7 minutes of real-time on Saturday night, it was starting to look like the end of days for the Ducks. After failing to milk the clock late in the fourth quarter, Washington State QB Anthony Gordon led his team down the field and score the go-ahead touchdown with a minute left, finding WR Brandon Arconado over the middle to put the Cougars up, 35-34. The crowd fell silent, the Washington State sideline celebrated, and for a brief moment, a cloud of doom fell over Eugene, as dreams of a berth in the College Football Playoff started to melt away.
But on the Oregon sideline, the players were ready. They trained for this moment every week in practice — this moment exactly.
In a swift and seamless five plays, the Ducks were in business, with a first and goal on the Washington State nine-yard line. A couple of set up plays, made possible by having two timeouts left to burn, and the rest was history. Lewis was hoisted onto his teammates' shoulders and made hero for the night, and the Ducks danced into the chilly night as victors.
Let's not overlook how Oregon got down the field though. While Herbert obviously had his hands on the outcome, it is WR Juwan Johnson, a senior graduate transfer from Penn State, who deserves much of the credit.
Johnson had a tough start to the 2019 season. After coming to Eugene with hopes of being a big-time difference-maker, he was sidelined for the first several weeks due to injury. Even when he was cleared to play, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound beast of a man struggled to get acclimated in the Oregon offense, and he had yet to have a breakout performance.
It was when his team needed him the most that Johnson finally rose to the occasion.
With less than a minute on the clock, Johnson was able to connect twice with Herbert for two major gains that got the Ducks into field goal range; the first a 15-yard catch to get to the WSU 33, and the next a catch-and-run that went 24 yards down to the Cougars' nine. As we said earlier, the rest is history.
The end result is sweet, but it's not without hints of bitterness. Oregon finally got the monkey off of its back and found a way to beat the pesky Cougars and their dynamic air-raid offense, but in the process, Herbert saw his historic streak of passing TD's come to an end. The Ducks kept their CFP dreams alive for one more week, on a day that saw some of the nation's top teams fell to lesser opponents. But while doing so, they showed several areas of weakness and might have done some damage to their reputation while squeaking out a victory over an unranked team in a nationally televised game.
The Oregon Ducks did what they needed to do on Saturday night, and they should have absolutely left Autzen Stadium in the early hours of Sunday morning with their heads held high. For all of the fans who braved a chilly night in Eugene to watch what will be remembered as an instant classic, fond memories were made of a time when the Ducks toed the line between victory and defeat and came out on top. However, that's a slippery slope, and Oregon is still searching for a way to get back onto solid ground.