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The BCS at The Grad

Oregon Ducks fan Jesse Bakay (far left) and friends at The Grad for the National Championship.

My name is Paulo Camacho, and this is Macho Sports.

On Monday, January 10th, Ducks took over the Davis Graduate. Oregon Ducks, that is.

It was the day of the BCS National Championship game, between the #1 Auburn Tigers and the #2 Oregon Ducks. Expected to be a duel of high-octane offenses, the National Championship featured a Heisman trophy candidate in Oregon RB LaMichael James, and the Heisman Trophy winner, in Auburn QB Cam Newton. A Southeastern Conference (SEC) team has won the National Championship every year since 2006, proving the conference’s supremacy in the college football world. This year, Auburn represented the SEC to extend its NCAA dominance. Despite controversies surrounding its Heisman winner regarding eligibility issues, the team’s perfect record in the country’s toughest conference left no doubt they belonged in the title game.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Ducks, powered by their run-heavy offense, went undefeated in the Pac-10, beating fellow national power Stanford along the way. They finished the 2010 regular season as the top offensive attack in college football, leading the nation in points per game (46.8) and total yards per game (530.7). Scoring no less than 42 points in all but two regular season games, and scoring over 60 points in three of them, Oregon’s offense was considered nigh unstoppable by most sports pundits. It was the Ducks’ first opportunity to play for a national championship, and many were hopeful that, despite the challenge in Auburn, they would not squander it.

For many Oregon fans settled in Davis and the surrounding area, there was only one place to come out and watch: the Grad. Hundreds of Ducks fans and alumni were at hand to hopefully watch their team win its first-ever National Championship. One particular Duck fan, Grad Emcee Will Arnold, had been planning for this game since Oregon’s induction into the contest.

“I’ll be here [at the Grad],” he said about his whereabouts on game day. “I’ll be doing trivia questions about the two schools that are playing, and some drink specials when stuff happens during the game.”

While Arnold was preparing for the Championship game festivities at the bar, fans began trickling in around 40 minutes prior to kickoff. By 5:00, however, the overwhelming green and gold-laden fans made it painfully obvious as to who the Grad was going to favor that night. As the pregame came to an end, the eerily quiet Oregon crowd came to life with a smattering of boos, as Auburn appeared on the dozens of TV screens showing the game at the Grad.

By the start of the game, the Grad was crowded with Oregon fans, with no one in the building representing Auburn in sight. “I couldn’t find one person in Auburn gear,” Arnold confirmed later that night. “I guess, West Coast rules out here in D-town, and they’re here for the Ducks, so that’s good.”

Only scattered cheers could be heard as the ball was kicked off to the Ducks, though. Uncharacteristic stalled three-play drives (three-and-outs) by both teams started the game, much to the dismay of the crowd, expecting a matchup between two of the nation’s best offenses. As if on cue, Arnold decided to throw out the first trivia question.

“Oregon went on to finish No. 2 in the nation one other time, in 2001,” Arnold recited. “Their No. 2 finish was behind what team?”

Per usual, the crowd either called out incorrect answers, or spent their time frantically checking their smartphones. Eventually, a patron came up with the school. “That’s right,” Arnold said. “Miami of Florida!”

Meanwhile, people were still trickling in, hoping to find a seat. Jesse Bakay, an Oregon alum and a self-described “huge Oregon fan,” was lucky enough to snag a table just in front of the bar. Despite the slow start from both teams, he was hopeful Oregon would overcome its stagnancy and dominate the game.

“The Ducks have always had a very exciting offense,” Bakay explained. “What’s lacked in the past has been the defense, and it seems like, this year, they really put both sides of their game together.”

Oregon’s defense showed up for the game, holding Auburn’s offense to zero points in the first quarter. Unfortunately for Ducks fans, their offense could not capitalize, and, as the first quarter came and went, the score remained a 0-0 tie. Heading into the second quarter, the Ducks were deep in Auburn territory, hoping for a score. Despite a first-and-goal at the Auburn 3-yard line, however, Oregon could only muster a field goal, taking the lead at 3-0. Oregon’s first scoring strike was quickly erased, however, as the Tigers took only 2:13 to finish off a scoring drive of their own, capped off with a 35-yard TD pass from Cam Newton to WR Codi Burns. And, to make things worse, the Ducks began their ensuing drive at their own 7-yard line.

“Ohh,” Arnold exclaimed. “Drown your sorrows – or celebrate at the bar – with $3.75 yaeger!”

The establishment quickly turned into a powder keg, however, as Thomas threw an 80-yard bomb to WR Jeff Maehl, bringing the Ducks to the Auburn 12-yard line. Thomas proceeded to turn the big play into an 8-yard TD pass to LaMichael James. Inexplicably, Oregon went for a two-point conversion, and succeeded, going up on the Tigers, 11-7. The crowd exploded once again, as Bakay enthusiastically struck people on the shoulder in elation – including myself.

Auburn responded with a long drive of their own, only to be stopped on 4th down, at the 1-yard line, by the Oregon defense. Yet, as Oregon fans celebrated another big play by their Ducks, it was Auburn who ultimately got the upper hand, taking down James in the end zone for a safety. Subsequently, they quickly scored a touchdown on their next offensive possession to take the lead, 16-11, going into halftime.

While the first half went unexpectedly for both teams, those in the Grad had their own opinions as to why. Bakay believed that the Ducks had shied away from their main strength on offense: the running game. “I think we have to get back to running the ball,” he said plainly. “We’re a running team, [and] we’re trying to be too cute [on offense]. It seems like … we’re over-thinking plays, and we’re making mistakes we don’t normally make.”

Arnold had an idea as to why the Ducks seemed to struggle in the first half. “I don’t know why, but the field conditions are a little funny – there’s been a lot of slips … Somebody hurt their ankle because they lost their footing, which is a little bit weird,” he claimed. “That does not play in Oregon’s advantage, because they’re the faster team, and they’re used to playing on field turf.”

The noticeable field conditions seemed to rattle both teams, as neither could take advantage of the other team’s miscues. Other than a field goal by Auburn to start the third quarter, both teams would fail to score for majority of the second half. With the score at 19-11, favoring Auburn, late in the fourth quarter, many of the Ducks fans began to see Oregon’s championship dreams slipping through their fingers. Auburn held the ball with five minutes remaining, and hope was all but lost.

That was until Newton lost a fumble forced by Oregon LB Casey Matthews at the Auburn 40-yard line. The Ducks, as well as the Grad crowd, were given new life. QB Darron Thomas led a methodical drive down the field, highlighted by a critical 4th-and-5 pass play to WR D.J. Davis, good for 29 yards. When James ran in the two-yard touchdown to pull the Ducks within two, the crowd went crazy.

As Arnold announced the drink specials, everyone anticipated Oregon’s next play – a two-point conversion attempt to tie the game at 19. The crowd was on the edge of their seat as Oregon snapped the ball. Thomas rolled out to his right, seemingly finding nothing … only to throw to his left, finding Jeff Maehl for the two-point conversion. To say the crowd in the Grad was ecstatic would have been an understatement: people were hugging each other, jumping up and down, as, once again, Bakay could be seen hitting people in euphoria.

It was now up to Oregon’s defense to somehow make a stop with 2:33 to go in the game, and maybe pull out the game in regulation, or, at the very least, send the game into overtime. There was one problem – 2:33 was more than enough time for Newton and the Tiger offense to make one last drive. And it all swung to Auburn’s favor on one fluky play. On a routine run play by Auburn RB Michael Dyer, everyone, including the Ducks defense, thought they had him tackled after a five-yard gain. Unfortunately for Oregon, Dyer’s knee never hit the ground, and was not ruled down. He rattled off another 32 yards before Oregon could get him down. By then, it was too late – with less than a minute to go, Auburn calmly ran a few more offensive plays before setting up a game-winning field goal. It was obvious that Oregon fans’ spirits were at an all-time low, but Arnold wouldn’t have any of it.

“Come on, everyone,” he exclaimed. “BLOCK THAT KICK!”

It was all for naught, however, as K Wes Byrum sailed the 19-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired, winning the national championship, 22-19.

The crowd, disheartened, filed out of the Grad that night. Though, there was still no doubt that the game brought a fervor to the Grad not seen since late October, when the San Francico Giants won the World Series. The National Championship brought an edge-of-your-seat contest between two of the best teams in the country. And, while it may not have ended the way many have wanted, it did not take away from the experience. As I went over to Arnold after the final seconds ticked away, I lamented for his beloved Ducks.

“It’s okay,” he said. “It was still a great game.”

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