091121-OSUvOregon-1988.jpg

Ohio State plays Oregon on Saturday, September 11, 2021 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Oregon defeated Ohio State 35-28. (Courtesy Ohio State Athletics) 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As Oregon safety Verone McKinley III raked in the game-sealing interception on the Ohio State sideline, quarterback Anthony Brown turned to face the sea of red on the sideline parallel.

He raised his hand to the crowd, mimicking the movement of a mouth. Too much talk.

Minutes later, sprawled out on the injury table nursing a cramped thigh, defensive end Bradyn Swinson watched silently as a fan mocked him.

“Good cramp, buddy,” the fan yelled, throwing a sarcastic thumbs up.

Swinson didn’t say a word; he just pointed to the hulking scoreboard in the east end zone. No. 12 Oregon: 35, No. 3 Ohio State: 28.

The fans had nothing else to say. They weren't used to this. Their Buckeyes hadn’t dropped a regular season game since 2018 and hadn't lost in Ohio Stadium, the deafening Horseshoe, since the year prior.

Oregon put an end to all of that, and secured a signature win in the process. 

"When we came out there, I'm not gonna lie it was really loud...," Ducks center Alex Forsyth said. "That's one thing we really emphasized this week was playing with crowd noise. There were 100,000 in that stadium, they were loud, they were rocking."

Those same fans looked shell shocked after hours of Joe Moorhead’s artful gameplan — Oregon's offensive coordinator who they watched in the same role at Penn State in 2016 and 2017, but never to this success against their Buckeyes. 

Moorhead's surgical play-calling exploited an undisciplined defense, one that was manhandled by the Ducks' offensive line and struggled to corral Oregon's athletes when they found space on the perimeter.

The fans watched too as their explosive offense marched down the field time and time again, only to look on as once prosperous drives were snuffed out at the hands of an Oregon defense that shook off the fatigue of the lengthy drives and made big plays in big moments — none more so than McKinley's interception in the waning minutes. 

And to think, only one player on the Ducks’ roster had been in a game of this magnitude and this hostile an environment before; Brown faced Clemson, the ACC powerhouse and recent national champion, on two occasions in his time at Boston College. That’s why the fifth-year senior, who twice succumbed to season-ending knee injuries, transferred to the Ducks — one final shot.

It almost came and went in the shortened 2020 season. Then, given an extra shot by the COVID-19 pandemic, he took over the reins of Oregon’s offense and helped deliver a signature win.

"I guess when you’ve been through everything he has in his career, it hardens you,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. 

Oregon didn’t just win Saturday, the Pac-12 conference vindicated itself. 

“I can’t even explain [the feeling],” Brown said. “It’s something that hasn’t been done here at Oregon before and being the first team to be able to do it, especially at Ohio State, is huge.”

Oregon entered the day as a steep underdog, yet never trailed; rushed for 269 yards behind a line of bulldozers; punched in a touchdown to cap off a 99-yard drive; had 11 players finish with 10-plus receiving yards; forced a turnover on downs three times; and inexplicably held on as Ohio State’s offense amassed over 600 yards of offense.

As Oregon’s offense left the field on fourth-and-1 with 20 seconds remaining, Brown was visibly distraught. He wanted the ball in his hands as the second ticked down — in a marquee win no less, one that had his fingerprints all over it.

Instead, the clock hit double zeroes as tight end DJ Johnson — the converted defensive end who returned to his old position and played on both sides of the ball Saturday — wrapped up Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.

That may have been the perfect moment to end in: Oregon doing anything it could to manufacture a makeshift pass-rush, down its stud defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and rising-star linebacker in Justin Flowe.

“Practice performance becomes game reality…,” Forsyth said. “I wasn’t shocked by the result today.” 

The Ducks were as stoic in victory as they were impressive on the field. But, when it was time to celebrate, boy, did they celebrate.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullen’s grin may have been the biggest. Or perhaps it was the conference's new commissioner, George Kliavkoff, watching from afar. Both had plenty to be jovial about.

The players and coaches stormed the field, then found their way to the west end zone where a splotch of green and yellow welcomed them.

“Turn me up!” Swinson yelled over and over as he high-fived fans.

An Oregon strength coach swung a towel in circles over his head, yelling so loud his voice cracked.

Devon Williams and Mykael Wright led a U-O chant — a fitting response to the boisterous O-H-I-O chants they endured for the better part of four hours. Then Wright waved goodbye to the swaths of disgruntled Buckeye fans.

Groups of players posed for pictures. First the defensive backs, then the linebackers. Every unit had its moments Saturday.

Linebackers Noah Sewell and Mase Funa embraced, finding a spot near the 10-yard line where they laid down next to each other, laughing, before they were hurried into the locker room.

The real work begins now for Cristobal's program. The Ducks are firmly in the playoff race, but no Pac-12 team has gone undefeated in conference play since it expanded. Then again, with Saturday's win, maybe Oregon won't have to. 

Long after the field had cleared, a rubber duck sat thoughtfully placed in the center of that same “O” — a far too docile symbol for a game both programs won’t soon forget.

Sports Desk Editor

Shane Hoffmann, originally from Michigan, is the Emerald's sports editor. He writes about the intersection of culture and sports, the climate, food and more. In his free time he enjoys playing sports, especially basketball, as well as cooking.