Oregon's day in the Sun
Ducks rally past Minnesota for 24-20 win
Posted: Friday December 31, 1999 09:22 PM
Oregon's Joey Harrington rushes for a first-half touchdown in the Sun Bowl. AP
EL PASO, Texas (AP) -- Oregon had a double edge over Minnesota -- in bowl game experience and close calls.
Both came in handy Friday when the unranked Ducks upset the No. 12 Golden Gophers 24-20 in the Sun Bowl on Keenan Howry's sliding catch of a 10-yard pass from Joey Harrington with 1:32 left.
"We've done that so many times this year," Harrington said. "I don't want to say it's becoming old hat, but ... we just have a feeling in the huddle. No one is nervous. No one is fidgety. Everyone just knows we're going to come down and get the job done."
The Ducks (9-3), 4-1 this season in games decided on the final possession, improved to 20-7 in games decided by a touchdown or less in Mike Bellotti's five years as coach.
Howry's TD reception capped an 87-yard drive that was highlighted by Tony Hartley's 23-yard catch over the middle on fourth-and-11 from the Gophers 44 with three minutes left.
"It's supposed to work real well," Harrington said. "And it did."
The Ducks' sixth straight victory made Bellotti the first Oregon coach to post two nine-victory seasons and also denied the Golden Gophers (8-4) their first nine-win season since 1905.
It also provided a measure of comfort for the Pac-10, whose teams were 0-3 in bowls after the league endured a spotty regular season.
The Gophers, in their first bowl game since 1986, drove to the Ducks 39 after Howry's TD but linebacker Dietrich Moore sacked game MVP Billy Cockerham, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Oregon defensive end Saul Patu.
Cockerham threw three touchdown passes, two to Ron Johnson, including a 7-yard pass on the first play of the fourth quarter that gave the Gophers a 20-17 lead. Cockerham also had three turnovers, including two interceptions.
Gophers punter Ryan Rindels won special teams honors and his teammate, tackle Dyron Russ, was selected the game's top defensive player.
"I would have taken the victory," Cockerham said.
"I agree with Billy," Gophers coach Glen Mason said. "I'd trade all three (awards) for a win."
Harrington didn't care that the Ducks were snubbed for individual honors.
"They can take all the individual trophies they want as long as we're coming home with the victory trophy," he said.
The run-oriented Gophers abandoned their rushing game in the second half after their offensive line was overpowered. At one point, Cockerham dropped back 12 straight times.
"There's no secret," Mason said. "We didn't get the job done up front. You have to block people. We had made improvements in that areas this season, but ..."
Cockerham and Arland Bruce connected on a 38-yard scoring play to open the second half, but freshman Dan Nystrom's second miss in 42 extra-point attempts left the Golden Gophers ahead 13-7. And it proved crucial in the closing minutes when Minnesota needed a touchdown and not just a tying field goal.
Harrington's sneak on fourth-and-inches on the next possession tied it and Nathan Villegas' extra point gave Oregon its first lead at 14-13 in the third quarter.
The Ducks, in their seventh bowl of the 1990s, increased the lead to 17-13 on a 37-yard field goal by Villegas, playing despite a torn knee ligament in his kicking leg.
The Ducks and Gophers were tied 7-7 after a first half filled with 10 punts and featuring Cockerham lining up behind a guard instead of center and Villegas's field goal attempt bouncing off one of his linemen's backs.
Cockerham's 2-yard fade toss to Johnson made it 7-0. Harrington's 5-yard draw tied it at 7 with 1:11 left in the first half.
Reuben Droughns gained 95 yards on 21 carries for Oregon. He sat out much of the second half with cramps but returned on the final drive, gaining 11 yards on a run that set up Howry's winning score.
"We didn't get it done today," Minnesota All-America strong safety Tyrone Carter said. "But that doesn't take away the season we had."
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