So that's the point
Bo Nix, Chase Cota and the Oregon Ducks prove that one thing still matters come bowl season.
Just think, the Oregon Ducks were about two minutes away from us chalking this thing up as another casualty of the modern day NCAA.
A clunky loss to North Carolina in the Holiday Bowl? Who cares, right? The Ducks were down their offensive coordinator, their best cornerback, their best linebacker and on and on. The big celebration already happened, anyway, with last week’s signing day and the announcements of who’s staying and who’s going. With everything pointing towards the future, what’s the point of giving much mind to a glorified exhibition in a baseball stadium with turf seemingly stitched together on deadline?
Heck, the playoffs are expanding in 2024 anyway.
But then those final two minutes happened. And in those final two minutes the Ducks created some images that will stick around the program and those players long after their time in Eugene passes.
Nix, of course, will remember the final drive of Oregon’s 28-27 win. It started with 2:24 on the clock on Oregon’s 21 and ended with Nix falling back and throwing a strike for the game-tying touchdown with 19 seconds to play. The first-year Duck has accomplished much in his four years as a starting college football quarterback. On Wednesday, he celebrated his first bowl win with double fist pumps.
And how about Chase Cota? The Medford native transfers home from UCLA for his final season of college football, overcomes a midseason injury and ends up on the receiving end of Nix’s throw on the final play of his collegiate career.
“I’m just aware there’s going to be another opportunity to play a game,” Cota said a month ago after Oregon’s loss to Oregon State. “I’ve lost a lot of big football games. I’ve won a lot of big football games.”
He never ended the season with a win until this one, though.
“It’s only right that he caught that last one,” Nix said.
Still, Cota spent the final moments of his final game looking like this:
Which brings us to Camden Lewis.
There may be no player in Oregon history who’s managed a complete career 180 like this fourth-year kicker. Lewis missed 8 of his 18 field goal attempts his first two years before becoming automatic the last two. He’d only missed one this year until pushing a 47-yard attempt in the first quarter wide right. When Lewis went to deliver Oregon the win after the Cota touchdown, it appears he overcorrected, pulling a shot in off the left post and barely through.
Holder Adam Berry lifted Lewis into the sky. Lewis left the field shaking his head, hands and thanking the heavens he’ll remember this one for nearly missing it.
Certainly, it could have been worse. At least he was smiling.
“We played 720 minutes of football this season and we needed to play 60 more,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said afterwards. “We needed all 60 of it.”
The win gave Lanning 10 in his first year as a head coach — an undeniable success despite the peaks and valleys a season takes one through. There were times this year when Lanning’s star burned as bright as any in college football — especially as the Ducks rattled off eight consecutive wins after Georgia and carved through the Pac-12 with an offense that wouldn’t blush when compared to some of the greats in program history. But when Nix got hurt against Washington and Oregon’s offense could no longer hide the warts of the team’s defense, the microscope came out.
The Ducks wilted in two of their final three games of the regular season. And down 24-14 early in the fourth quarter needing two scores and two stops, it felt like time to transition into talk about early-enrollees, portal plunders and the new faces who just might turn some heads next spring.
“All we needed was time on the clock,” Lanning said. “You can’t worry about the past, and you really can’t worry about the future. You have to be in the present.”
It’s easy to see the wrong in college sports these days — something that seemingly gets easier during a postseason that celebrates the tradition of games named after condiments. But Oregon got those two scores. Oregon got those two stops. And the final quarter of a pointless bowl game ended up being more entertaining than any of us deserve on a Wednesday night in December.
We’re all going to remember this one. Isn’t that kind of the point?
— Tyson Alger
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As always, nice work! I miss your work at the Athletic.
What a great game. Young defense played great against a top tier QB and Nix came out of his shell just long enough to give Chase Cota the memory of a lifetime. And yeah, somehow a meaningless game ends up giving Ducks fans and players even more hope and momentum riding into 2023 with ten wins. Great stuff!