Over the last three decades, Oregon has made major bowl games under Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly, Mark Helfrich and Mario Cristobal. For the many highs for Oregon, there have been a few lows.
That was the case on this day 20 years ago as Arizona State’s Andrew Walter put forward a record-breaking performance. Walter passed for 536 yards and four touchdowns as the Sun Devils rallied from 21 points down to top No. 6 Oregon, 45-42.
Setting the Stage
Arizona State was unranked at 5-2 as it arrived in Eugene on Oct. 19, 2002. The Sun Devils were blown out by Nebraska to open the year and had lost to North Carolina two weeks prior, but had yet to lose in Pac-10 play.
The reigning Pac-10 champion, Oregon was riding an 11-game winning streak, dating back to 2001. After finishing 11-1 and No. 2 in the polls in 2001, the Ducks were 6-0 and coming off a 1-point win over UCLA. Oregon had won four straight over the Sun Devils.
Arizona State Storms Back
With the help of two Onterrio Smith touchdown runs, Oregon raced to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter and by the middle parts of the third, Arizona State had hardly made a dent in that deficit. On the short end of a 35-17 score, Arizona State erupted for 25 straight points.
With two touchdowns over the final 3:06 of the third, Arizona State had pulled to within three. Walter fired touchdown passes to Mike Pinkard and Shaun McDonald. He added a 2-point conversion toss to McDonald to cut the lead to 35-32 after three.
After going 65 yards in five plays and 67 yards in one in the third, the Sun Devils went 66 yards in three plays to take their first lead less than three minutes into the fourth quarter. Walter’s second touchdown pass to Justin Taplin and fourth of the day put Arizona State in front, 39-35. With 9:18 to go, Mike Barth’s second field goal of the day pushed the lead to seven.
Oregon, however, had an answer.
It took the Ducks six plays to march 55 yards for the tying touchdown. With less than seven minutes to play, Jason Fife’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Samie Parker evened the contest at 42.
In the second half, big plays would be a theme for Arizona State. But on the game’s decisive drive, the Sun Devils were methodical.
Arizona State went 68 yards in 16 plays and melted nearly five minutes off the clock. Mike Barth’s 29-yard field goal put Arizona State back in front with less than two minutes to play. Up 45-42, the Arizona State defense needed one stop.
On the second play of the final Oregon drive, Brett Hudson intercepted Fife’s pass and returned it 40 yards. Arizona State proceeded to run out the clock to secure the victory.
McDonald led all receivers with 12 catches for 204 yards. Fife passed for 288 yards and three scores while Smith rushed for 172 yards and three more, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Arizona State athletics
For Oregon, the loss would begin a downward spiral. The Ducks dropped six of their final seven games, capped with a Seattle Bowl loss to Wake Forest to finish 7-6.
After topping Washington the following week, Arizona State dropped four of its final five games to finish 8-6. Walter’s 536 passing yards against the Ducks broke Paul Justin’s Arizona State record set in 1989 and remains a program record to this day.
The lone victory over a ranked team that season was the epic comeback at Oregon. It came on this day two decades ago.
Featured image courtesy of Arizona State athletics