By MILES BENNETT-SMITH, MANAGING EDITOR
Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson said he “blacked out” as his 37-yard field goal sailed a few feet inside the left upright. But Stanford fans will remember every second of that kick, as it gave the No. 13 Cardinal a stunning 17-14 overtime upset over No. 2 Oregon Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.
The win sent Stanford (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) on to next week’s matchup at No. 18 UCLA with a chance to clinch the Pac-12 North and a spot in the school’s first Pac-12 Championship Game.
“Our word of the week was resolve,” said head coach David Shaw. “It was about us playing our best football and withstanding a mad rush that we knew we were going to get from a great football team in Oregon.”
Oregon had owned the series in recent years, handing Stanford its only regular-season defeats in both 2010 and 2011.
Saturday’s game was Stanford’s first win at Autzen since a thriller in 2001 and just its third against the Ducks since the turn of the century. All three of those wins have been upsets against top-10 Oregon teams, and all three have marked the Ducks’ only conference loss of their respective seasons.
On a more recent scale the win was also a source of redemption for Williamson, the goat of Stanford’s overtime loss in the Fiesta Bowl last season.
“I would say the greatest feeling for me is just knowing that I helped my team out and that I helped them win,” the junior kicker said. “I believe I can make everything.”
The Cardinal pulled off the upset by outrushing the Ducks 200 yards to 198, outpassing them 211 yards to 207 and holding the ball for over 37 minutes.
Stanford’s defense forced eight punts and a missed field goal and got two fourth-down stops. Senior linebacker Shayne Skov had 10 tackles and junior linebacker A.J. Tarpley tallied five, also snagging just the sixth interception thrown this season by Oregon star quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“This team has had close games throughout the year, and in most of them we’ve come out on top,” Tarpley said. “We trust each other. … It comes to our gameplan. Our plays are sound, so we just want to make sure we do our job.”
The victory sent shockwaves around not just Eugene, Ore., but the rest of the nation as well. The race for the BCS Championship is now in a state of disarray with No. 1 Kansas State and the No. 2 Ducks both losing and No. 3 Notre Dame now needing just a win against USC to book its ticket to Miami.
It was a game for the ages, as the Ducks entered as heavy favorites with the best offense in the country and a history of stomping Stanford. Redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan was making his first career road start, Stanford had struggled against the spread offense — giving up plenty of points and yardage to Arizona earlier this season — and the Card had to deal with a hostile Autzen crowd that was hoping to send the Ducks to a national title game yet again on the backs of likely All-American Kenjon Barner and Mariota.
After the Cardinal was forced to punt on its first two possessions of the game, Mariota made a 77-yard run down the sideline to the Stanford 15 but was stopped short of the end zone by backup safety Devon Carrington.
“That was probably the play of the day,” Shaw said of Carrington. “The defense came up and battled. You didn’t see any of those long runs go for touchdowns. That’s one thing that hasn’t been talked about that’s been addressed the last two years in our recruiting. We’re faster on the back end. We’ve got speed.”
That speed tipped the scales against Chip Kelly’s own slippery squad, as the Stanford defense forced a turnover on downs after Mariota’s run and both sides settled into 60-plus minutes of bend-but-not-break play.
Hogan came out firing, completing his first eight passes and 10 of his first 11 in the opening quarter as Stanford racked up 139 total yards. But it wasn’t until the second quarter that the Cardinal finally cashed in, running the ball down Oregon’s throat on a 15-play, 93-yard drive that took more than seven minutes off the clock. Hogan capped it himself by escaping off the edge and cutting upfield on a dive into the end zone to stun the home fans and make it 7-0 Stanford.
The Cardinal had been there before, however, hanging with the Ducks in each of the last two years until Oregon pulled away in the second halves of both games. Mariota matched Hogan with several completions, and Barner and De’Anthony Thomas racked up yards on the ground for the Ducks, so it was only a matter of time before Oregon finally got on the board. A three-play, 59-yard drive did the trick just before halftime, with Mariota finding Keanon Lowe in the end zone to knot things up at 7-7. It was the first touchdown drive of three plays or fewer — or lasting less than a minute — that Stanford had allowed all season.
“We weren’t really worried about their psyche as much as ours,” Tarpley said. “We do respect them but we’re not going to concede points to them. That’s our motto on defense.”
A 7-7 score was not the halftime result many had expected, with the over/under being 65 for the game and the Ducks having scored 30 or more points in an NCAA-record 23-straight games. The second half, however, was almost identical to the first. Stanford controlled the ball for long stretches without cashing in, and the Ducks struck big before stalling late. Running back Stepfan Taylor kept churning on the ground with gashing runs, totaling 118 yards in the first three quarters alone.
But Oregon did what Oregon does, running a mind-boggling 15-play, 95-yard drive in just over three minutes to take the lead 14-7 on its second possession of the second half with a Thomas run. Kelsey Young coughed up the football to stop the Cardinal’s next drive and Autzen was rocking once more with blood in the water. There was nothing to be made of it, though, as Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado missed a field goal to give Stanford the ball back.
The Cardinal seemed willing to let the Ducks have the game two possessions later when Taylor fumbled late in the third quarter. Yet the Cardinal forced a quick three-and-out, setting up a Williamson field goal that sailed just wide left from 43 yards out.
Oregon took over at its own 26 with just 6:28 on the clock, and a 12-yard run by Barner got the Ducks going. But after a tackle in the backfield, an incomplete pass and Stanford’s only sack of the night, the Cardinal got the ball back at its own 22. It was time for Hogan to work his magic.
“I just tried to get the ball to catchable places and let the receivers do the rest,” he said.
The poised redshirt freshman led Stanford downfield, completing to his tight ends three times for first downs. Two plays from the Oregon 21 went nowhere, however, and Ertz could only get 9 yards on a third-and-10 catch. Head coach David Shaw called timeout and opted to go with his bulldozer at fullback, Ryan Hewitt, who dove 2 yards on fourth down to move the chains.
Hogan then threw a lob to Ertz in the corner of the end zone. Reaching over a defender, Ertz bobbled the ball with both feet down before hauling it in as he jumped back, but the pass was ruled incomplete on the field because Ertz’s left shoulder landed out of bounds. Video review showed that his right shoulder had landed in the end zone first, though, and the Cardinal tied it up at 14 with the extra point.
Oregon had 1:35 to mount a game-winning drive but was forced to punt for the fourth straight possession, setting up the Ducks’ first overtime since 2007.
The Stanford secondary shined in the extra session. Mariota rolled right on the first two plays of overtime but had nowhere to throw and was forced out of bounds both times; a miscommunication with receiver Josh Huff on third-and-9 led to an incompletion on the vaunted Oregon offense’s final play. Maldonado missed another kick — this one off the left upright — to leave the door wide open for the Cardinal.
On second-and-8, a Hogan scramble nearly turned into Shaw’s worst nightmare when the ball was jarred loose by Kiki Alonso, but the Cardinal pounced on the fumble to maintain possession.
Two plays later it was Williamson who marched onto the field, having made just 12 of his 21 field goals since his notorious misses in last year’s Fiesta Bowl.
“[After] he missed the kick [in the fourth quarter], he was standing there by himself,” Shaw said. “I went up to him, I put my arms around him, I looked him right in the eye and said, ‘It’s time to grow up. I don’t want to talk anymore about how talented you are. Make the kicks.’ And for the first time, I saw him look me right in the eye and he said, ‘Got you, coach.’”
“I would say I saw it a good 20 times before I went out there,” Williamson said of the overtime field goal. “At the end of the day it’s just like any other kick.”
“You’re supposed to go out there and make them, as a kicker.”
Just as it had in Glendale — and earlier on the evening — Williamson’s kick curled left; only this time, the ball stayed just inside the upright.
Stanford’s Oregon problem had been solved.
“Our kids keep fighting,” Shaw said. “They keep fighting all the way to the end. We knew if we got into the fourth quarter we were going to give ourselves a chance to win, and that’s what our guys did.”
The conference title game is scheduled for Nov. 30 and will be held on the Farm if the Card can beat the Bruins next Saturday.