“What a day. What a day,” Oregon Head Coach, Mario Cristobal, said shortly after leading the Ducks to a 30-27 overtime victory over the Washington Huskies on Saturday.
Moments before, he was celebrating with his players in the locker room after all had finally made their way back from a jubilant fan-filled celebration on the field following a rollercoaster ending to the game.
With the game tied and three seconds left in regulation, the Huskies were set to score a game-winning field goal in front of a devastated Autzen stadium. With little to no options left, Cristobal used his final two timeouts in attempt to “ice” the Husky kicker. As fate would have it, the kick went wide, Autzen erupted and overtime began.
After the Oregon defense held Washington to a field goal, Oregon found itself at 3rd and 6, following an 11 yard reception by Herbert’s go-to receiver, Dillon Mitchell.
Then, in what was likely one of the most important moments of his Oregon coaching career thus far, Cristobal called a time out. He huddled with his offense and looked them in the eye, making sure “they were ready,” offensive lineman, Shane Lemieux, said.
“He looked at CJ and he looked and Justin and he said, ‘we’re gonna score right here.’”
As the Ducks lined up, they had one mission: To score a touchdown and win the game.
Just as Cristobal had told them in the huddle, there wasn’t going to be “talk of a field goal.”
In front of 58,691 anxious fans, Oregon freshman running back, CJ Verdell, found a gaping hole and ran in for the game-winning touchdown, setting the entire stadium on figurative fire.
Despite the crowd management staff’s best efforts, fans poured on the field, non-biased reporters hugged, players danced and no one wanted it to end. It was a celebration Autzen hadn’t seen in many years and one the Oregon faithful are sure to remember and talk about for years to come (myself included).
“The biggest thank you to everyone in that stadium and even those that were outside,” Cristobal said.
“What a blessing to have the support. . . it was an explosion that’s hard to compare that to anything I’ve ever been around.”
After watching their team lose to the Huskies two years straight, no one would have faulted Cristobal if he had patted himself on the bad even just a little bit.
But he didn’t.
Instead, Cristobal gave credit to everyone in the program, but himself, and spoke about the team “buying into a process” that started in January.
“I think when you have moments like this, it validates all that stuff and more,” Cristobal told reporters after the game.
And he’s right.
except this moment was years, not months, in the making. The Oregon faithful needed it and team absolutely deserved it.
Three years, three head coaches, new staff, new schemes, a new culture- an entirely new “blueprint,” as Cristobal calls it- and lots of adversity.
Post-Mariota, Oregon Football wasn’t easy.
It took moments of doing something and being let down. It took embracing Cristobal and learning to trust him. It took moments on the field adjusting to new coaches and personalities. It took moments in the weight room “filling sleeves” and it took moments tweaking technique, practicing fundamentals and watching film with officials over and over again.
And it took moments spending time together, becoming “family”.
So many moments finally leading to moments like this. Moments that make college football well. . . college football. Thankfully Cristobal gets that.
After swimming in Saturday’s green and yellow sea, something tells me his team gets it too.
Follow Nichole on Twitter @UOgridirongirl