Fife, Smith Rally Oregon Past Fresno State
Sept. 7, 2002
EUGENE, Ore. - Making just his second start for Oregon, Jason Fife already has learned to stay calm.
Fife was unfazed by his crucial fumble with less than five minutes to go and stayed levelheaded as he led No. 13 Oregon's late rally to beat Fresno State 28-24.
Down 24-22, Fife marched Oregon 43 yards on four plays - capped by Onterrio Smith's 2-yard rumble into the end zone with 1:07 to go.
'He didn't let any mistake or turnover get him down. And that's the mark of a good leader,' Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said.
Fife completed 19 of 34 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown for the Ducks (2-0), while Smith had 35 carries for 124 yards and two scores.
'I felt more at ease and more calm today,' said Fife, who has replaced Joey Harrington at quarterback.
The Bulldogs (1-2) were without starting quarterback Jeff Grady and star receiver Bernard Berrian because of injuries, but Paul Pinegar and Deandre Gilbert filled in admirably.
Pinegar completed 16 of 36 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns, including first-half TD passes of 5 and 20 yards to Gilbert as the Bulldogs took advantage of Oregon's weak pass rush.
But, in the end, Fresno State couldn't hold on to the lead.
'We're disappointed, but you can't make excuses,' Pinegar said. 'The plays just didn't go our way.'
Oregon started well, scoring on its first possession when Fife hit Samie Parker for a 70-yard touchdown.
Pinegar completed a 50-yard pass to Alec Greco to move the Bulldogs on their opening series, but a third-and-8 pass intended Marque Davis was intercepted by Steven Moore on the Oregon 3.
Fresno State finally found a groove and Pinegar succeeded with a 5-yard touchdown to Gilbert with 9:06 remaining in the first quarter.
The Ducks went up 10-7 at the close of the quarter on Jared Siegel's 33-yard field goal.
The Bulldogs dominated the second quarter, with Asen Asparuhov's 45-yard field goal and Pinegar's 20-yard scoring pass to Gilbert. Then Fife was sacked on the final play of the half as Fresno State took a 17-10 lead into halftime.
'They went out and spread the field,' Oregon linebacker David Moretti said. 'They knew where to hit us and they had a good game plan.'
Oregon narrowed it with a safety to open the second half before Siegel got the Ducks even closer with a 37-yard field goal.
But Rodney Davis' 1-yard run with 5:28 remaining in the third widened the margin again for Fresno State to 24-15. Davis finished with 20 carries for 118 yards.
On third-and-2 to open the final quarter, Smith shoved his way into the end zone to bring Oregon within 24-22.
It appeared that Oregon was well on its way to victory, moving back again to Fresno State's 11-yard line with just under five minutes left. But Fife fumbled on the 7-yard line and Bulldog linebacker David Adamo scooped it up - quieting the sellout crowd of 56,357.
The Bulldogs couldn't capitalize on the key turnover, and when the Ducks took over again Fife and Smith completed the rally.
'We all got tested,' Smith said. 'It was a great test. And we all passed it.'
Pinegar replaced Grady, who bruised his right hip in the a season-opening 23-21 loss to Wisconsin, for the second straight week.
Berrian, who sprained his knee against Wisconsin, also didn't play. He could be back for the Bulldogs' Sept. 21 game at Oregon State.
As for Oregon, Bellotti would have preferred it if the game wasn't so close.
'I'd like to never have to rally, but now that we did it, it makes them understand and believe that if it happens again, we're more confident than we were before,' Bellotti said. 'But, once is enough for me.'
By ANNE M. PETERSON
AP Sports Writer