EUGENE, OR – After falling to Washington State in each of their last four meetings, the No. 11 Oregon Ducks found a way to beat the Cougars 37-35 Saturday night thanks to a walk off kick from freshman kicker Camden Lewis and a monstrous night from running back CJ Verdell.
Despite having 3 losses, the unranked Washington State Cougars would prove to be Oregon’s biggest defensive challenge yet this season. Headed into the game, the Cougars led the nation in passing yards at 440.7 yards per game and were 4th in total offensive yards.
Adding to the Oregon’s challenges, the Ducks would also be without senior linebacker Troy Dye, who suffered a broken thumb last week against the Washington Huskies. Dye’s absence was definitely felt, as Oregon struggled to get pressure on Washington State’s senior quarterback Anthony Gordon all night. Gordon completed 32/50 attempts for 406 yards, 3 touchdowns, but Andy Avalon’s relentless defense still found a way to record 2 interceptions and 1 sack.
With less than 2 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, Oregon safety Jevon Holland intercepted and returned Gordon’s pass 19 yards for a touchdown. Chasing points due to a missed extra-point in the first quarter, the Ducks converted a 2-point attempt in which Justin Herbert found Johnny Johnson III in the back of the end zone, extending their led to 7 points.
Washington State responded with a quick scoring drive, moving 59 yards on only three plays. The drive was capped off with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Gordon to Renard Bell, tying the game 17-17.
Oregon’s offensive line dominated Washington State up front, allowing CJ Verdell to rush 23 times for a career-high 257 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Verdell’s longest run of the night came late in the first quarter, where he broke an 89-yard touchdown. At the heart of their offensive line was sophomore tackle Penei Sewell, who fellow lineman Jake Hanson stated is “a guy that comes along in a program once every decade or couple decades honestly. He’s that good.”
In the end, Oregon’s defense had a chance to win the game but failed to stop Washington State as they faced 4th and 3 on the Oregon 5-yard line. With only 1:08 left, Anthony Gordon found Brandon Arconado for a 5-yard touchdown pass, giving the Cougars a 35-34 lead.
Only having a minute to work with, Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo simply let Justin Herbert go to work. Herbert struggled most of the night but showed his leadership and ability in the final seconds as he calmly spread the ball across the field, quickly moving the Ducks into field goal range.
With 2 timeouts, and 18 seconds left in the game, Mario Cristobal decided against taking a shot at the end zone. Instead, he called freshman kicker Camden Lewis’s name, the same kicker who missed an extra-point in the first quarter. Lewis stepped up and knocked in a 26-yard field goal giving the Ducks a 37-35 lead as time expired in Autzen Stadium.
Cristobal had full trust in Lewis, who he stated has “great ability”, and prepared for this exact moment in practice where he went “5 for 5… Including the two-minute drill where it was a kick to win the game. It played out just like we practiced it. So, it was great to see it happen and become reality.”
Oregon will travel south next week to take on the USC Trojans in Los Angeles before heading into a bye week.