The weather and location were not the only reminders that this was a unique Rose Bowl. Duke officials had to receive clearance from aeronautical authorities in Washington for a plane to fly overhead for pictures, which the public-address announcer informed the crowd about beforehand lest anyone think the enemy was attacking.
Just past 2 p.m. on New Year's Day, after a moment of silence to honor those lost not a month before, Oregon State's Norman Peters booted the opening kickoff. The brown dot, hard to follow in the dark gray sky, was collected by Duke's Davis at his own five-yard line. He was crushed by Lloyd Wicketts, the ball popped free, and Oregon State recovered.
After trading possessions, the Beavers faced a third down on Duke's 19-yard line. Durdan dropped back to pass. With no receiver open, he faked a throw and took off to his right, nothing but mud ahead of him. The touchdown and extra point gave the underdogs an early lead.
Wade went to a ground-and-pound game. Lach tied it up in the second quarter on a reverse from four yards out, The Durham Sun describing him as "unmolested." Despite forcing a Duke turnover in the second quarter, Oregon State could not muster another scoring drive, and the game was tied at the half.
In the locker rooms Wade dissected his team's mistakes with zeal, while the tension of Stiner's speech was interrupted by an inebriated fan who stumbled in to find relief for his bladder. But the coaches' words must have had some impact, because after a sluggish first half, both teams came alive to start the third quarter. Oregon State's George Zellick caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Dethman. Duke responded with a one-yard Winston Siegfried TD run set up by Lach's 37-yard reverse. With two minutes to go in the third the game was tied at 14.
The offensive explosion was not over. As the third quarter ran out, Oregon State halfback Gene Gray raced into the flat. After the game Gray would return to Corvallis and be rejected by the Navy because he was missing teeth—they had been knocked out playing football. Eventually the Army Air Forces would give him a chance, and Gray would fly more than 50 combat missions over Germany. Two years after the war, as a Navy test pilot, his P-80 Shooting Star fighter jet would crash on takeoff in a Panamanian jungle, costing him both arms. But during the Rose Bowl, Gray's body was whole, and he used it to juke a defender and haul in a 30-yard heave from Dethman. He then eluded two tacklers and ran 38 yards to give the Beavers a 20--14 lead on what was then the longest pass play in Rose Bowl history.
As time wound down, the teams traded a series of fumbles and interceptions, one of which led to a Duke safety that pushed the score to 20--16. The Blue Devils then found themselves with one last possession, starting on their own 36. They ran and passed to Oregon State's 46-yard line, but on third down Dethman intercepted a pass, and the game was over. "We thought right up until the end we would get a touchdown," end Jim Smith recalls from his home in Louisville. "In the huddle there was no backing down."
But Duke's three fumbles and four interceptions sealed its fate. The 20 points the Blue Devils allowed were the most points scored against a Wade team since 1931, and Oregon State claimed the second-biggest upset in Rose Bowl history, behind Columbia's 7--0 win over Stanford in 1934. "I go into the Air Service January 24th, and if I get killed, I can take it now and die happy—that's how you feel when you win a Rose Bowl football game," said Chaves, the winning captain.
The players didn't know that as they battled, 260 miles to the north in Washington, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt were sealing their destinies. A series of meetings between the new allies culminated on New Year's Day when the leaders met to formalize America's entry into the European theater.
After Duke hosted a dinner that evening for both teams, the Beaver Express departed Durham and traveled along a southern route, stopping in Atlanta, New Orleans for the East-West Shrine Game, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Tucson, Los Angeles and Sacramento before arriving home. The team had traveled 7,384 miles through 24 states and used 10 railroads. By the time the train pulled into the station, the traveling party had shrunk, as some players hopped off near their hometowns to say their good-byes.