The I-5: Cota has a moment, Altman's latest magic trick and the party up on the Bluff
The weekend that was and the week to come along The I-5 Corridor
CORVALLIS — The Ducks lost and Chase Cota knows what comes with that.
He grew up around here, had family who have played in and watched this game and surely thought about it often when he elected to finish his college career in Eugene after four seasons away at UCLA.
“It’s just a big deal,” Cota said. “It used to be called the Civil War. I don’t even know what it’s called now. It’s just been a big game forever and it means so much to everyone in this state. So, you know, we can’t have this sour taste in our mouth again.”
Unfortunately it’ll be a lasting one for Cota, who finished his only Corridor Cup with 9 catches for 136 yards and a score. Then again, Cota was just excited he was able to play. The South Medford grad hadn’t appeared since Oregon’s win over Cal in October and hadn’t felt 100 percent healthy until Tuesday.
“To come back and feel as good as I did, I was very excited coming out,” Cota said.
You could tell. Cota’s 44-yard touchdown reception from Bo Nix will stand the test of time as one of the most jaw-dropping catches in all of the meetings between these two programs. And it was a catch propelled by the respect Cota has for Oregon State defensive back Rejzohn Wright.
“No. 2 is a great player and I knew he was going to go up for it,” Cota said. “So I had to gather and go up for it, too, and, you know, it felt like a watermelon. The ball got really big there that last second and it felt good to come down with it.”
Cota showed an impressive amount of perspective after the loss considering his proximity to heart break.
“I don’t want to show it. I’m emotional,” he said. “It’ll seep in the next day or so…I’ve lost a lot of big football games. I’ve won a lot of big football games. I’m just aware there’s going to be another opportunity to play the game.
“But that’s not what you’re thinking at the end of the game. Right away I was going nuts. But after that, it just is what it is.”
For his latest trick…
I get the sense Dana Altman isn’t completely sure how the Ducks pulled that one off on Sunday.
100 percent credit to him — he coached a heck of a game.
Sometimes in this era where the barometer of success only takes into account what happens in the final weeks of the season, you forget about those games in the doldrums — the ones where things aren’t going right, when players are out, interest is elsewhere and seats are empty.
Sunday was all of those things for the Ducks. A noon tip against Villanova with a roster so depleted by injury that walk-on Wilsonville grad Gabe Reichle got the start at guard and Will Richardson had to play 39 minutes.
Only one player for the Ducks scored off the bench in their 74-67 win.
Altman seemed to be happily baffled by all of it shortly after the game. Once a top-25 team, the Ducks played Saturday missing N’Faly Dante, Jermaine Couisnard, Brennan Rigsby, Keeshawn Barthelemy, Tyrone Williams and Nate Bittle due to injury.
“Clay will tell me who can play and who can’t,” Altman said. “We’ll just go with whoever we got.”
And you know what? The Ducks might have found something even more important than the win.
Considering their credentials, Richardson and Guerrier carried Oregon in a game the Ducks dominated on the glass. Guerrier had 21 points and 8 boards, Richardson 19 points. But it was the work Altman saw the two putting in before and during the game that made him feel like the Ducks, at 4-4 and wounded, could still fly.
"Will has done a tremendous job these last few games because if he wouldn't have led us and kept talking to the guys, I'm not sure we would have showed up," Altman said. "Man, I was so impressed with Will. We haven't had that type of leadership since Eugene Omoruyi.
“Will and Quincy just showed how important leadership and experience is. Those two guys were really good today. Friday it was Will — and Quincy didn’t help him out much — but today Quincy really got a couple of shots down, got his head up and started flying around…Those two guys got the other guys going.”
One of these days, Altman wouldn’t mind having just a normal practice. It’s the great irony of this first month gone awry for the Ducks — throughout the offseason Altman talked numerous times about how much the team benefitted from finally having a normal summer after a few years disrupted by the pandemic. The group gelled, the 64-year-old coach grew optimistic and then all the wheels fell off at the start of the race.
But beating Villanova is better than losing to Villanova. Altman will take it. But he’d prefer not to have to pull that thing off again.
“We got to keep the ship afloat, keep playing,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get some of the guys back.”