Instant Reaction: Oregon escapes Autzen with a 31-24 thrilling victory over Fresno State

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For the first time in 644 days, the Oregon Ducks football team was able to celebrate a victory in front of the Duck faithful inside Autzen Stadium.

But it definitely wasn’t how Mario Cristobal would choose to draw it up.

Oregon was able to win their 2021 opener with a 31-24 over Fresno State in a game that was way too close for comfort. Quarterback Anthony Brown converted a 4th-and-2 on the Bulldog 30-yard line and scored the game-winning touchdown with just 2:57 remaining.

Before that run, no one would consider it to be a stellar day for Brown (15-of-24, 172 yards) or the offense as a whole. The Ducks had trouble moving the ball down the field against a stout Fresno State defense that pitched a shutout over UConn last week.

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After Oregon scored the eventual game-winning touchdown, it had to stop a Bulldog offense just one more time, but that was easier said than done. Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener had all the momentum in the second half but took a couple of big shots from Duck defenders that hobbled him some.

He still almost completed a 4th-and-15 to keep their drive alive as receiver Jalen Cropper was two yards short of the first down marker and the Ducks regained possession with 2:19 to go. Oregon was able to convert one first down and that was the ball game.

Haener was a thorn in the Duck defense’s side as he went 30-of-43 for 298 yards and a touchdown. Fresno State’s downfall turned out to be three key turnovers which Oregon was able to convert into touchdowns and that was the difference in the game.

The last turnover was Haener’s fumble when the Bulldogs were ahead 24-21 early in the fourth quarter and everyone on the Oregon sideline and in the stands was sweating it out. Jordan Happle stripped Haener on the Fresno State’s 19-yard line, which set up an eventual Camden Lewis 25-yard field goal to tie the game with 7:41 left.

Oregon regained the momentum and held the Bulldogs without a first down on their next possession to set up the Ducks’ game-winning touchdown.

Unfortunately, this game was played without Kayvon Thibodeaux for the last three quarters as the Duck defensive end had his ankle rolled on and was out for the remainder of the game. Cristobal said the injury was a sprain, X-rays were negative and hopefully, he’ll be able to play next week.

That game next week is a big one as the Ducks travel to Columbus with a date with No. 4 Ohio State scheduled for a 9 a.m. PT kickoff.