SEATTLE — Mario Cristobal has been a part of some of the greatest rivalries in college football.
While winning two national championships as a player during Miami’s glory days, the old offensive lineman traded blows at the line of scrimmage with Florida State and Notre Dame.
As an assistant at Alabama, Cristobal was on the sideline for the Iron Bowl against Auburn and two iconic national championship showdowns with Clemson.
It doesn’t get better than what Cristobal has experienced as a head coach in two classic Oregon-Washington chess matches with Chris Petersen.
No. 12 Oregon overcame a 14-point deficit in the second half for a 35-31 victory over No. 25 Washington on Saturday in front of a stunned crowd of 70,867 at Husky Stadium.
The memorable road triumph, which makes the Ducks (6-1, 4-0) a virtual lock to represent the North Division in the Pac-12 championship game, comes after Cristobal’s crew ripped the Huskies’ hearts out with a 30-27 overtime in last year at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon has now won 14 of the last 16 games in the rivalry, but those two defeats have fueled this renaissance.
“We like to take snapshots of progress,” Cristobal said in the bowels of a stadium his team silenced about 45 minutes earlier. “When I arrived here, there was talk about a 70 to 21 game. And then I was a co-coordinator and offensive line coach and came up here, and the game was 38 to 3, right. And then all of a sudden, now these games are really tight, they’re hard-fought games. …
“We have set up a blueprint that demands mental toughness and accountability. And it’s starting to really pay off in tight games, in clutch situations where you’re going to have to be at your very best to have a chance to get it done.”
There were times throughout the game when things were not going well for Justin Herbert and Andy Avalos.
But in the biggest moments, the star quarterback delivered and the talented defensive coordinator dialed up the right calls.
Washington had a 31-28 lead and was facing a third-and-2 when safety Jevon Holland and nose tackle Jordon Scott stuffed tailback Kamari Pleasant in the backfield to force a punt.
Herbert completed a 20-yard pass to Johnny Johnson, and Travis Dye broke loose for a 21-yard run to get the visitors into the red zone on the ensuing possession.
Then on third-and-2 at the Washington 5, Herbert threw a touchdown pass to Jaylon Redd to put Oregon ahead with 5:10 remaining.
The kid who grew up in the shadow of Autzen emulating Marcus Mariota — two years after watching helplessly from the sideline with a fractured collarbone as Braxton Burmeister struggled with the forward pass in the blowout loss, and three years removed from the historic home loss to the Huskies as a true freshman — delivered a game-winning drive Duck fans won’t soon forget.
“Growing up in Eugene, I know the rivalry of Oregon-Washington,” Herbert said after finishing 24-for-38 passing for 280 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. “There have been some great games these past couple years.
“Anytime you can get a win here in Seattle, it’s special for us.
Jacob Eason, who also had NFL scouts drooling while passing for 289 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, had a chance to steal the moment from Herbert and live out his own backyard football fantasy.
After the 6-foot-6 junior from Lake Stevens, Wash., was sacked and the Huskies were called for a false start on their final series, Eason calmly completed a 20-yard pass to set up a fourth-and-3 at the Oregon 35.
The Ducks called a timeout. Then, with starting cornerback Deommodore Lenoir out with an injury, Eason targeted Mykael Wright. The true freshman had tight coverage on Puka Nacua, and the pass feel incomplete.
“I brought the boys up and I just told them, this is the mark right here to show the nation that we’re a defensive school, not just an offensive school,” senior linebacker Troy Dye said of the scene on the field during the timeout. “We can make plays as well. It’s not just going to be on No. 10’s shoulders, it’s going to be on our shoulders as well.”
The defensive stand allowed No. 10, Herbert, to trot out and line up in victory formation.
It was a dramatic turn of events for Oregon, which trailed 28-14 after Eason threw a 33-yard touchdown to Nacua on the first possession of the second half.
Herbert completed a 12-yard pass to true freshman receiver Mycah Pittman on a third-and-10 to set up a 14-yard touchdown scamper by Cyrus Habibi-Likio to get the Ducks within one score.
Following a 30-yard field goal by Peyton Henry, the first in the series of key plays by the defense, Cristobal and offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo started to roll the dice.
On a fourth-and-1 from Oregon’s own 34-yard line, Habibi-Likio broke threw the line for seven yards. Then the bruising sophomore running back leaped over a defender on a 15-yard run.
“We felt like we were going to win. We were going to win that particular situation,” Cristobal said. “And it gave us a lot of momentum. We know how our guys are kind of momentum-driven.
“Once we got that (first down), it kind of sparked everything else.”
The gutsy drive was completed with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to Pittman on a fourth-and-3 to make the score 31-28 as time expired on the third quarter.
“Freshmen don’t know a lot about this rivalry,” senior left guard Shane Lemieux said. “I think Mycah got a taste because I saw it from a lot of their fans in the end zone.”
Eason was 15-for-19 (78.9%) passing in the first half with two touchdowns, including a 5-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Andre Baccellia with 58 seconds left.
Herbert was 14-for-24 (58.3%) for 161 yards and two touchdowns, including a 16-yard screen pass to Redd that had evened the score with 2:59 remaining in the second quarter.
The Huskies (5-3, 2-3) had outscored the opposition 90-6 in the first quarter this season, but the Ducks marched 75 yards in 12 plays on the opening drive to take a 7-0 lead on Herbert’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Webb.
Nine different Ducks caught passes to help make up for the loss of tight end Jacob Breeland, the team’s leading receiver, to a season-ending knee injury.
“He was unfazed,” Cristobal said of Herbert’s ability to rally the team without his security blanket.
Washington answered with back-to-back touchdown drives after back-to-back three-and-outs by Oregon.
“Frustration might not be the right word,” Herbert said of the slump between the opening drive and the late-game heroics. “It’s to never let the last play affect your next play. Learn from it, grow from it and move on to the next play.”
On a fourth-and-1, Eason drew in the defense and pitched the ball to Salmon Ahmed for a 9-yard scoring scamper, caping a 13-play, 52-yard drive to tie the score.
Eason took advantage of some confusion in the Oregon secondary for a 48-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Chin to give Washington a 14-7 lead with 12:48 remaining in the second quarter.
The Ducks’ defense gave up as many touchdowns (four) as it had allowed in the first six games of the season. The Ducks faced 14- and 10-point deficits deep into the second half.
And the visiting locker room ended up being the only happy place at Husky Stadium on a sleepless Saturday night in Seattle.
“It felt amazing,” Dye said. “You could see it on the whole team’s faces. Coming off the field, it was just surreal. A great team finish.”
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