CORVALLIS - All season long, the Oregon football team has used big plays to change the complexity of its games.
Quick strikes on offense, punt returns for touchdowns, key interception returns, you name it.
On Saturday in the 114th Civil War, the Ducks once again used big plays to take control.
This time, the biggest came from the most unlikely of sources.
Facing a fourth-and-3 at their own 28 early in the third quarter, the Ducks lined up for a punt. Instead, linebacker Michael Clay took the snap from his position behind the center and rumbled 64 yards to the OSU 8.
The Ducks scored on the drive as quarterback Darron Thomas found D.J. Davis on a screen pass for a 19-yard TD that put Oregon up 23-7 as the top-ranked Ducks knocked off Oregon State 37-20 in front of the 46,469 people in Reser Stadium, the largest crowd in stadium history, to clinch a berth in the BCS national title game.
If all goes as expected, Oregon (12-0) will face Auburn (13-0) in the title game on Jan. 10 in Glendale Ariz. For the Beavers, the loss ends a disappointing season that saw OSU go 5-7 and miss the postseason for the first time since 2005.
"I think it's a testament to these players," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said of the undefeated regular season. "They've been able to focus every single week on the game at hand. I told 'em we'll pick up our head at the end of the season and see where we are, and we're fortunate enough to be 12-0. All the credit goes to the kids. They're awesome."
"That's a heck of a year," OSU coach Mike Riley said of Oregon's 12-0 mark. "That's hard to do what they just did."
The fake punt was one of the biggest plays in a game that seemed up for grabs through most of the first half. It was a play Kelly planned to use.
"We were going to do it the first time we punted, and that turned out to be in the third quarter," Kelly said.
Added Riley: "It was well done by them, but I'm really kicking myself for that - that we weren't in a good enough position to stop it."
Even after the big play, the Ducks had to hold off the Beavers, who drove down the field to make it 23-10 on a 26-yard Justin Kahut field goal, then watched as Kahut kicked a 22-yarder on the Beavers' next possession to make it 23-13 with 14:50 left in the game.
On both drives, the Beavers had the ball inside the six. The first drive they had first-and-goal at the 2 and couldn't get in the end zone.
"Our red zone defense was huge for us," Kelly said. "To hold them to two field goals in that situation was huge."
OSU's missed opportunities turned out to be critical as Oregon countered with a 71-yard touchdown drive, capped by Kenyon Barner's 23-yard burst up the middle that put the Ducks back in control at 30-13 with 12:16 left.
"They couldn't just focus on LaMichael (James) or they couldn't focus on Darron (Thomas) or our receivers, so it opened lanes and it opened up a lot for me," Barner said.
It wasn't ever pretty for the Ducks, who entered the game as the nation's most potent offense. Oregon was ranked first in total offense and in scoring per game at just more than 50 points.
Oregon did finish with 346 yards rushing. James rushed for 134 yards and Barner added 133 as the Ducks were able to get outside often and rip off big chunks of yards.
While the Beavers' defense may have had a hard time stopping the Ducks, it still managed enough big plays to keep the game close.
"We left some plays out there, but Oregon did a great job of doing what they do all year and that's controlling the tempo," OSU cornerback James Dockery said.
The Beavers took a 7-0 lead as they put together a 15-play, 62-yard drive that chewed up 7:36 of the first quarter. Quarterback Ryan Katz found Jacquizz Rodgers on a 6-yard pass to cap the Beavers' longest drive of the season in terms of number of plays and time.
The Ducks used a key fourth-down pick up at their own 49 to keep alive what turned out to be a nine-play, 60-yard touchdown drive on the ensuing possession.
Thomas found Jeff Maehl to convert the fourth down, then James rambled 31 yards on the next play. Thomas capped the drive as he rolled to his left, then threw back to the left to a wide open Barner for a 3-yard score.
The Beavers kept the 7-6 lead as Brandon Hardin blocked the extra point.
Talmadge Jackson III intercepted Katz, one of four for the Ducks, on the Beavers next possession and looked headed for a score, but Rodgers raced back to stop him at the 12.
The Beavers held on defense and Rob Beard kicked a 36-yard field goal for a 9-7 lead.
OSU faked a field goal attempt, but Johnny Hekker was intercepted with 8:51 left and the Ducks went 74 yards in seven plays with James running in from 8 yards out for a 16-7 lead. All 74 yards came on the ground.
The Ducks looked to increase their lead before the half, but missed a 25-yard field goal attempt after a 13-play drive.
James' 10 yard run with 4:27 left in the game put Oregon up 37-13 and the Beavers scored with 1:18 left when Katz found Markus Wheaton for a 12-yard touchdown.
Wheaton finished with 10 catches for 137 yards and the score. Rodgers had 87 yards rushing on 22 carries, and Katz was 23 for 40 with three interceptions.