SEATTLE - Justin Herbert has his signature moment at Oregon.
The fourth-year starter finished off the biggest comeback of his college career by leading the Ducks back from a 14-point deficit to defeat Washington 35-31 Saturday afternoon in front of 70,867 at Husky Stadium. It was the largest second-half rally in a victory for the Ducks since 2008 when they trailed 20-6 at Purdue before winning 32-26 in overtime.
Washington led 28-14 early in the third quarter before the Ducks answered with a touchdown drive. Following a UW field goal, Herbert threw two touchdown passes for a second straight dramatic win over the Huskies.
“I think this was a defining moment for us,” said Herbert, who was 24-of-38 for 280 yards and four touchdowns. “Last year, we got down to Washington State and could’t close the gap, but it was a different story this year.”
It was a defining moment for Herbert, who couldn’t remember the last time he was part of a team that overcame a two-touchdown deficit.
“I don’t think we even did that in high school,” said the Sheldon grad who noted that he may have to recall his Kidsports days for a larger comeback. “That was a lot of fun today.”
The win over the Huskies marked the third fourth-quarter comeback of Herbert’s UO career, but the stakes were much higher this time around.
His 17-yard touchdown pass to Darren Carrington with two seconds remaining to beat Utah 30-28 in 2016 capped off a 4-8 season. In last year’s Redbox Bowl, Herbert threw a touchdown pass to Dillon Mitchell with 11:19 left to play to lift Oregon to a 7-6 win.
A rally to beat the Huskies pushed the Ducks to 4-0 in the Pac-12 and likely secured the North Division title.
Herbert made his first start for the Ducks as a true freshman in a 70-21 loss to Washington. He did not play against the Huskies as a sophomore due to injury, but led Oregon to a 30-27 overtime win last year before completing the comeback in his final appearance against Washington.
Oregon was 4-12 during the past three seasons on the road with victories at Utah, Wyoming, California and Oregon State. The Ducks are 2-0 in true road games this year after beating Stanford and Washington.
“It is big because we’ve kind of struggled on the road the past couple years,” Herbert said. “It’s great to get a win on the road, especially against a team like Washington.”
The Huskies scored in the final minute of the first half to take a 21-14 lead and added a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half to make it 28-14.
“We didn’t let it get to us,” Herbert said. “Things weren’t going our way but we knew we had to get back on track.”
Herbert completed all three of his passes on Oregon’s next drive as the Ducks went 79 yards in 10 plays before scoring on a run by Cyrus Habibi-Likio.
“Justin was calm and collected, just like always,” senior guard Shane Lemieux said. “He’s leading us. He was constantly in our ear telling us we were good, giving him time in the pocket and everything. He was encouraging us like he always is.”
After Washington went ahead 31-21, the Ducks went 75 yards on 10 plays during a drive that featured a pair of fourth-down conversions, including Herbert’s 36-yard touchdown pass to Mycah Pittman on the final play of the third quarter.
“Justin is just unfazed, a complete professional,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “He wasn’t flustered, not upset. Everything was leadership-oriented.”
The Ducks trailed 31-28 when they got the ball back at their own 30-yard line with 8:36 to play. Herbert completed a 20-yard pass to Johnny Johnson on the first play to move the ball to midfield and capped the drive with a 5-yard scoring pass to Jaylon Redd with 5:10 left to play.
“Even though we were down, we always felt there was another opportunity to get back in it,” Redd said. “(Herbert) was encouraging everyone and at the same time we were encouraging him to make sure we got the job done together.”