EUGENE, Ore. (AP)Anthony Brown scored on a 30-yard quarterback keeper with 2:57 left and the No. 11 Oregon Ducks overcame a wobbly season opener with a 31-24 victory over Fresno State on Saturday.
Oregon jumped to a 21-6 lead, but Fresno State scored three unanswered touchdowns to tie the game midway through the third quarter, then took the lead early in the fourth on Abraham Montano’s field goal.
A fumble recovery gave Oregon the ball at the Fresno State 32, but the Ducks settled for Camden Lewis’ 25-yard field goal to tie it before Brown’s go-ahead touchdown.
Brown threw for 172 yards and a touchdown while running for 62 yards and the game-winner. It was Oregon’s 17th straight home-opening victory.
Brown, a sixth-year senior, transferred to Oregon last year from Boston College but was backup to Tyler Shough until getting playing time in the Pac-12 title game and the Fiesta Bowl. Shough transferred to Texas Tech in the offseason.
The Ducks were hurt by the loss of defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who left the game at halftime with a left ankle injury.
Oregon had not played a game at Autzen Stadium for 644 days and the game came amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the state.
Oregon and Oregon State were among the first schools to require proof of vaccination or a negative virus test to attend football games. Gov. Kate Brown also imposed a mask mandate, even at outdoor events.
The game was also marred by smoky conditions from wildfires in the region. Air quality was deemed unhealthy in the Eugene region by the U.S. Air Quality Index.
Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener threw for 285 yards and a touchdown. The Bulldogs (1-1) already started the season with a 45-0 victory over Connecticut.
After Thibodeaux sacked Haener and caused him to fumble for a turnover, CJ Verdell ran for a 2-yard touchdown to give the Ducks the early lead.
Another Fresno State fumble led to 4-yard scoring run from Travis Dye to make it 14-0. The duo of Verdell and Dye went into the game with a combined 4,363 rushing yards, most of any retuning pair at the FBS level.
Thibodeaux, widely considered a possible Heisman Trophy contender this season, appeared to injure his left ankle but had it taped on the sidelines and returned before the end of the first half. He came out of the break in street clothes and wearing a boot.
Montano kicked a pair of field goals, from 33 and 39 yards, before Brown found Johnny Johnson III in the end zone with a 32-yard pass to make it 21-6. Jalen Cropper caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Haener to close the gap for Fresno State to 21-13 just before halftime.
The Ducks turned the ball over on downs at fourth-and-2, and on the ensuing drive a pass interference call got the Bulldogs close. Haener scored from two yards out on a keeper and the conversion tied the game at 21.
Montano’s 22-yard field goal with 13:03 left in the game gave the Bulldogs a 24-21 lead. Lewis’ game-tying field goal came with 7:41 to go.
Oregon went 4-3 overall last season amid the pandemic. The Ducks defeated USC 31-28 in the Pac-12 championship game and went on to play in the Fiesta Bowl, losing to Iowa State 34-17.
Fresno State: Fresno State hadn’t played a ranked opponent since 2018. … The Bulldogs are celebrating their 100th year of football this season.
Oregon: Senior linebacker Dru Mathis left the game in the first half with what appeared to be a left knee injury. … Oregon leads the series against Fresno State 7-2. The Bulldogs haven’t downed the Ducks since 1982.
Fresno State hosts Cal Poly next Saturday.
The Ducks travel to No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday.
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