The déjà vu was hard to ignore.
For the second time in two years, Alejandro Maldonado’s kick was just a little too far left, and Oregon found itself out of hope, out of chances and out of the running for the national championship.
Behind the best rushing defense in college football, No. 13 Stanford smothered Oregon’s potent offense on its way to a stunning 17-14 overtime win in front of 58,792 dazed Duck fans at Autzen Stadium on Saturday night. The loss knocked Oregon (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) off its path toward a BCS title game and gave Stanford (9-2, 7-1) the right to control its destiny through the conference championship game and beyond.
Of course the game wasn’t over after (or decided by) Maldonado’s second missed field goal of the night. Oregon’s defense still had a shot to stop Stanford and force a second overtime — the Ducks were even gifted a fumble by Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan — but Stanford recovered, and kicker Jordan Williamson booted a 37-yard walk-off field goal.
Maldonado’s checkered past, including a missed field goal last year against USC that crippled Oregon’s title hopes, sparked questions after the game about his consistency.
“When I kick, I don’t really think about the distance because I know I have a strong enough leg to get it through,” said the junior from Colton, Calif. “I kicked the ball well in warm-ups and practice. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”
Little went right for the Ducks all game. The highest-scoring team in the nation found its running lanes clogged by the Cardinal’s stout defensive line. After a scoreless first quarter, Hogan led Stanford on a 15-play, 93-yard drive culminating in the freshman plowing into the end zone from one yard out. The strike quieted a crowd used to seeing weekly blowouts and set the tone for the rest of the contest.
Oregon got on the scoreboard nine minutes later courtesy of a 28-yard touchdown pass from Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota to wideout Keanon Lowe, and soon took the lead with a six-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore standout De’Anthony Thomas in the third quarter.
But the game quickly turned into a war of attrition, with both sides trading punts and battling for field position.
Keeping Oregon in a tight contest — unfamiliar territory for the Ducks, if one’s being honest — Stanford held the ball for more than 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor gashed Oregon’s injury-depleted middle, racking up 46 of his 156 rushing yards in the last quarter alone.
The dagger came with 1:35 left on the clock. Hogan hit tight end Zach Ertz for a 10-yard touchdown that initially was ruled incomplete. Video evidence overturned the call, however, and sent both teams into overtime.
Each team had just one possession, and Maldonado missed his kick. Williamson didn’t.
What it means. Mariota and Kelly both acknowledged the loss hurt but emphasized the need to focus on what’s ahead of them: Civil War against Oregon State. The Beavers dismantled Cal on Saturday night, and a win over the Ducks next Saturday would freeze Oregon out of the Pac-12 Championship game. The best-case scenario would potentially be an at-large BCS bid to a second-tier bowl — the Orange Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl, for instance.
No natty. No Rose Bowls. No Pac-12 titles.
Additionally, if Stanford beats UCLA next weekend, Oregon’s performance against Oregon State will matter little. The only way Oregon can play, and host, a second-consecutive Pac-12 Championship Game is if Stanford loses to the Bruins, and Oregon beats Oregon State.
And that’s just within the Pac-12.
With No. 1 Kansas State losing to unranked Baylor, the BCS picture is even more clouded. For all intents and purposes, Oregon’s chance at a BCS National Championship is shot. Undefeated Notre Dame will ascend to the top spot after Saturday’s win over Wake Forest, and a slew of SEC teams — Alabama, Georgia and Florida — will jostle with the Ducks and the Wildcats behind them. What happens now is anyone’s guess.
Turning point. Despite the seesaw battle, Oregon held a legitimate shot to win right up until Maldonado’s kick hit the left upright. Autzen, loud as ever, fell silent, and students and fans refused to leave their seats for long after Stanford took its celebration into the visitor’s locker room.