Oregon is just one game away from playing for the Pac-12 Championship. With a 10-1 record (7-1 Pac-12) the Ducks are on the verge of returning to the conference championship game for the first time since 2011 and remain in the running for one of four College Football Playoff spots.
Oregon State is one game away from seeing its season end completely. Standing at 5-6 (2-6 Pac-12), one win extends the Beavers’ season and they become bowl-eligible.
On paper, the Ducks are expected to dismantle the Beavers on Saturday — Oregon is a 17.5- point favorite coming in. Post-season fate aside, when Oregon meets Oregon State at Reser Stadium on Saturday, a lot more will be riding on the game’s outcome.
“This is a really big rivalry,” Oregon senior Dior Mathis said. “We’re one of the top teams in the country and Oregon State is really good despite what their record may show — it’s always a good fight so nothing is guaranteed.”
The Civil War is not just a football game, and 117 prior meetings between the two schools separated by just 47 miles have proven that.
“Since the Civil War is an in-state rivalry, it reminds me most of sibling bickering, not in the sense of a big brother-little brother complex, but that both teams, regardless of win-loss record, battle it out for pride,” Oregon sophomore Jake Mehringer, the lead designer for the Pit Crew’s media team, said. “I think that is the biggest difference between this game and other games: it all comes down to pride at the end of the game.”
For one week, the entire state is divided and people’s allegiances determine bragging rights for an entire year.
“This game divides my family in half. From my aunt who’s an OSU alum to my uncle who went to UO, my family is divided right between the middle,” Oregon fan Brandon Willison said. “My aunt and I always make a bet for the game — on the week leading up to it, we’ll trash talk a lot but on game day, we barely speak because the game is so important to us.”
The gridiron battle between the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers is the fifth most played active rivalry in the nation and is the oldest in the Pac-12. The Civil War first kicked off in 1894 and Oregon leads the all-time series at 61-46-10, including a current six-game winning streak.
Not only is this rivalry entering the 120th year of competition (the game was not played in 1900, 1901, 1911, 1943 and 1944 and it was played twice in 1896 and 1945), it has the ability to divide the state.
From Oregon player Derrick Malone Jr. to life-long Duck fans such as Willison, this rivalry gives a special feeling to all people associated with the program. Not only are the players competing for each other, but they are also playing for their town and their community.
“After being here for four years, I’ve really come to understand this rivalry,” Malone said. “You can’t let your team down, you can’t let your university down and you can’t let your town down — in the back of your mind, there’s that little extra of wanting to win for everyone.”
For players like Malone, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Marcus Mariota, the thought of playing in the Civil War game one last time is something that provides a spark in practice for the week.
“It’s always a different feeling playing in the Civil War,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “A lot of guys know each other on both teams — no matter what though, we’ll get the best out of them and they’ll get the best out of us.”
“It’s always a big game — we always talk about taking it one game at a time but this is one that means a lot,” Mariota said. “You understand that this game is a huge part of this community, it’s a huge part of this state and to play in it, it’s truly special.
It’s a game that Oregonians circle on their calendars, a Thanksgiving weekend tradition.
“Usually I go to every Civil War game and tailgate whether it’s in Eugene or Corvallis,” Willison said. “But I can’t this year because my daughter has a dance show and I’m going to watch her — you can bet I’ll watch the game when I get home, though.”
The Civil War serves as a way for many organizations and business to gather. The annual Civil War Blood Drive began 13 years ago and ran this year from Nov. 1-23, a prime example of the good that comes from the tradition.
Each year, the Oregon State Alumni Association and Oregon Alumni Association, along with the Lane Blood Center and the American Red Cross, put together a three-week long blood drive that spans the entire state. Each donor submits a ballot indicating which program they are associated with. The program with the most ballots is announced at the game.
“The Civil War Blood Drive capitalizes on the already intense rivalry between the University of Oregon and Oregon State University — Duck and Beaver fans, students and faculty are happy to help their team win while doing something wonderful for their community,” said Kristi McElhinney, marketing communications specialist at the Lane Blood Center. “Each blood donation can save three lives.”
Weyerhaeuser, a business that has offices throughout the state, has an annual Civil War luncheon at its Springfield location on the Friday prior to the game. The lunch serves as a way for the people in the offices to wear their respective school colors while coming together for a raffle and silent auction.
“For the only time all year, this luncheon gives us the chance to bring us all together for this rivalry,” Weyerhaeuser employee Rhonda Winkler said. “It allows us to represent our teams but do so in a fun way — especially since we (the Ducks) are on a winning streak.”
The rivalry between the Ducks and Beavers runs so deep that it infiltrates almost every aspect of life in the state of Oregon. Quite simply, the Civil War is something that means so much more than a three-hour football game and players, coaches and fans can attest to that.
“I’ve never lost to Oregon State in my career so that means a lot to me,” Malone said. “To us, it may just be another game in the bigger picture but to the fans, its something so important to them that we don’t want to let them down — we want them to have the bragging rights for the rest of the year.”
Follow Ryan Kostecka on Twitter @Ryan_Kostecka