Football Writers Association of America 2010 BEST WRITING CONTEST
COLUMN | ENTERPRISE | FEATURE | GAME | LOOSE DEADLINE

FIRST PLACE: GAME (IMMEDIATE DEADLINE)
Bud Withers, Seattle Times

EUGENE, Ore. – They billed this as the Civil War for the ages.

They were wrong. It was better.

Bud Withers
Seattle Times
Age: 62
College: Washington State
Background: Withers is married, with two grown sons, and lives in suburban Seattle. He has written three books and contributed to ESPN's 2005 encyclopedia of college football. Away from the laptop, he runs (frequently) and golfs (lamentably). In April, he was inducted into the U.S. Basketball Writers Association hall of fame. In 2008 he won first place for columns in the FWAA Best Writing contest.

Oregon State acquitted itself magnificently. Oregon was a duck's feather better.

The Ducks, reeling against a two-score deficit in the third quarter, got off the mat, overhauled the Beavers and then nursed a fragile four-point lead down the stretch and won the 113th meeting of the two neighbors, 37-33.

"They never doubted themselves," said first-year Oregon coach Chip Kelly of his team. "They never flinched."

For their trouble, and they had a lot of it this season, the Ducks will face Big Ten winner Ohio State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

Hollywood doesn't write stuff as good as what took place here at Autzen Stadium on a December evening when the temperature sank to 28 degrees at the start of the telltale fourth quarter.

There were five lead changes. There were the knifing runs out of the spread option by Oregon freshman LaMichael James, who had his seventh straight 100-yard game.

There was the poise of Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield, and there were the ubiquitous Rodgers brothers, James and Jacquizz, who helped take the Beavers to the very doorstep of their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1965.

And finally, there was the collision at the Oregon State 31-yard line. If some football teams have The Drive and The Catch in their lore, the Ducks will have The Shoulder.

Oregon State, down 37-33, had just threatened deep in Oregon territory. But on fourth-and-15 from the Oregon 27, Beavers coach Mike Riley elected not to have Justin Kahut try a fifth field goal, into what was an everso- slight breeze. Canfield's sideline pass to James Rodgers was mistimed, and the Ducks took over.

After a 30-yard run by LeGarrette Blount – out of the doghouse and back onto a playing field for the first time since his misbegotten punch at Boise State exactly three months ago – Oregon faced fourth-and-three at the OSU 33.

Too far to try a field goal. Too close to punt.

Oregon State flushed the Ducks' quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, to his right. He seemed cornered by OSU safety Lance Mitchell at the Beavers' 31. But the muscular, 5-foot-11 Masoli, who has Mitchell by 15 pounds, rammed him backward there, continuing to the Beavers' 27.

"It was a pass to me," said Ducks tight end Ed Dickson, reviewing the call. "I wasn't open and he took off running. He basically did what he does best. He said, `It's me or the other guy.'"

The Beavers had one more shot. They forced a fourth-and-two at their 19, while calling their second timeout. And again, the Ducks went all-in, deciding against a field goal.

Masoli pitched to trailing back Kenjon Barner, who forged left for 5 yards, and it was as good as done.

Nobody here will forget this one. They better not. It was a fitting climax to an extraordinary season of Pac-10 football, maybe the best ever.

Coming in, the question was whether the Beavers could stand in against an Oregon offense that mutilated OSU for 694 yards last year in Corvallis.

The Beavers, led by rugged defensive tackle Stephen Paea, mostly did that, 37 points notwithstanding. Last year, Oregon scored 65.

Their crucial lapse was the one that turned the game. With the Beavers ahead 33-28, James squirted free over the left side in front of the Oregon bench, his heels nipping past OSU defensive end Gabe Miller, on a 52-yard touchdown run to put the Ducks ahead for good, 34-33 late in the third quarter.

James had 166 yards rushing. If there was a gameturning factor, it was Oregon's success in limiting Jacquizz Rodgers on the ground; he had 64 yards on 16 carries. But he received for 73 yards and his brother had 10 receptions for 139 yards as Canfield threw for 306.

The hurt had to be monumental for Oregon State (8-4), which, for the second straight year, was denied the Rose Bowl by the Ducks. A play here, a play there – that tackle by Mitchell? – and it might've been different.

"It stings," said OSU receiver Damola Adeniji. "It hurts deep."

For Oregon (10-2), it completed a comeback from that awful night in Boise that began the season.

"I wanted it for him," said Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell, talking about Blount. "I recruited that kid. I love him. He made a mistake. That's not who he is."

"We came into the season with high expectations," said Dickson, referring to Boise State, "and it seemed like they were crushed after that first game."

They weren't. The Ducks are going to Pasadena in style. It took the best effort of their ancient rival to push them there.

•

Comment by the judge, Mickey Spagnola: Great job of telling me a story about the football game instead of simply regurgitating play-by-play. In fact, the writer captured my attention, and I really didn’t even know much about the game, but I wanted to keep reading and reading. He was able to weave overall summary into the game story while focusing a major portion of piece on how this one crucial play in the compelling struggle between two state schools turned this into a four-point game in the end. Smooth from the lead to the last line.

• Second place: Michael Lev, The Orange County Register
• Third place: Pete Thamel, The New York Times
• Honorable mention: Eric Hansen, South Bend Tribune; Brett McMurphy, FanHouse