Redshirt freshman LaMichael James ran for 166 yards and three touchdowns Thursday night to send No. 7 Oregon to the Rose Bowl with a 37-33 victory over No. 13 Oregon State in the Civil War.
Oregon (10-2, 8-1) claimed the Pac-10 championship with the victory, ending USC’s seven-season hold on the conference title. The Ducks, who have not been to the Rose Bowl since 1995, will face Ohio State in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
LeGarrette Blount, who hadn’t played since throwing a punch after Oregon’s season-opening loss to Boise State, returned to the field and scored on a 12-yard run in the third quarter.
Afterward, fans thrust red roses into his hands.
“This means everything to me,” he said. “I’m kind of at a loss for words.”
The victory capped a stunning turnabout from the Ducks’ 19-8 crash on the blue turf in Boise. Oregon had just one other stumble this season – a 51-42 loss at Stanford – en route to the school’s fifth Rose Bowl appearance.
“I think our team was always capable of this greatness,” said quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who threw for 201 yards and a score.
Oregon State (8-4, 6-3) was vying for its first Rose Bowl berth since the 1964 season. The Beavers will have to wait until the rest of the Pac-10 wraps up the season to find out which bowl they will play in.
It was the first time the annual rivalry was a winner-takes-all path to Pasadena.
After the game the Duck mascot clutched a bouquet of roses as he was lifted above the fans who rushed the field at Autzen Stadium. Players donned green T-shirts emblazoned with a yellow “O” and the Rose Bowl logo.
Sean Canfield threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns for the Beavers. Jacquizz Rodgers, the Pac-10’s second-leading rusher behind Stanford’s Toby Gerhart with an average of 119.4 yards a game, rushed for just 64 yards and a score.
Oregon State had a chance to take the lead late in the fourth but Canfield threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-15 from the Oregon 28.
“We were all confident with the call,” Canfield said. “It was a great call. We have a lot of playmakers on offense and I thought it was the right decision. We just couldn’t get it done.”
Masoli took over with more than 6 minutes left and ran out the clock with an impressive drive that featured two fourth-down conversions. He absorbed a hit during a 6-yard scramble on fourth-and-3 and pitched it to Kenjon Barner to set up a 4-yard run on fourth-and-2 that allowed the Ducks to finish it off.
It was a disappointing end for Oregon State, which hung tough for much of the night behind Canfield, Rodgers and his older brother, James.
“It’s never easy to come, fight hard, you put yourself in the position you’ve worked for all season and you let it slip through your fingers,” linebacker Keith Pankey said. “It hurts”
Justin Kahut kicked three field goals in the first half, Jacquizz Rodgers had a 1-yard run for his school-record 20th rushing TD this season and James Rodgers had a 28-yard touchdown reception with 14 seconds left in the half to give the Beavers a 23-21 lead.
Masoli hit Jeff Maehl for a 73-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter. Maehl has caught a scoring pass in the past three Civil Wars.
Canfield’s 9-yard TD pass to Casey Kjos made it 30-21 early in the third before Blount sparked Oregon’s comeback. He had a 12-yard score to pull the Ducks within two points and finished with 51 yards rushing.
Blount was suspended for the season after he punched Boise State defensive end Byron Hout in the aftermath of the Ducks’ loss on Sept. 3. He missed eight games, but was kept on scholarship and allowed to practice with the team.
Blount was reinstated in mid-November after meeting certain academic and behavior conditions set by coach Chip Kelly.
“Last home game at Autzen Stadium, and he’s a senior,” James said about Blount. “I’m happy for him.”
Blount ran for 1,002 yards last season. After his suspension, James stepped into his place, rushing for a Pac-10 record 1,476 yards this season.
Thursday night’s game was his seventh straight with more than 100 yards.
“He’s an awesome kid,” Kelly said of James. “He’s just got that second gear.”
Kahut’s fourth field goal made it 33-28, but James had a 52-yard scoring run late in the third. Oregon’s 2-point conversion failed, and Morgan Flint kicked a 34-yard field goal with 10:13 left for the final margin.
“You have to have a short memory in this game,” Masoli said. “You can’t let a start get to you.”
Last season Oregon State was headed to the Rose Bowl with a victory in the Civil War. But the Ducks came to Reser Stadium and romped to a 65-38 victory. The year before, the Beavers visited Autzen and won 38-31 in the second overtime.
“It’s tough to swallow,” Canfield said of missing out on a trip to Pasadena for the second straight season. “I said earlier it was such a great football environment, everything I thought it would be. I’m just disappointed.”