By Rob Moseley
The question was asked over and over by fans as Oregon dropped two of its last three games.
Where was the leadership?
Friday night, Josh Huff made himself the answer to that question. On a night when other breakdowns kept the Ducks from pulling away earlier in the Civil War, Huff made play after play, capping a career performance with his game-winning touchdown catch for a 36-35 victory in Autzen Stadium.
“It’s just amazing to go out on top, and do it with my teammates – the ones I bled with and cried with and battled with,” Huff said. “I’m going to always remember this moment.”
Huff finished with nine receptions for 186 yards and three touchdowns, including both UO scores in the fourth quarter to answer go-ahead touchdowns by OSU. Huff’s first touchdown was in the third quarter, as he accounted for all of the Ducks’ second-half points (with the exception of one PAT).
That outburst came after a halftime talk with junior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who told Huff he could be just the spark the UO offense needed.
“You’re one of the leaders,” Ekpre-Olomu told him. “You’ve got to keep their heads up and keep them moving.”
The Ducks did have some reasons to hang their heads at halftime, though Huff’s performance even to that point wasn’t one. He had a 13-yard catch on Oregon’s first touchdown drive, and receptions of 16 and 18 yards as the Ducks drove to a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
The second quarter featured a 44-yard Huff reception to set up a field goal. All nine of Huff’s receptions over the course of the night came during the Ducks’ six scoring drives.
“That guy’s a warrior,” UO quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “He’s been making plays like that his whole career.”
The connection between Huff and Mariota was never sharper than it was Friday night. On the 44-yard reception in the second quarter, Huff adjusted his route on the fly to get behind the secondary for a long gain. And his second touchdown, a 12-yard gain on fourth-and-11 with OSU up 29-24, was a post route that Huff cut off prematurely.
“I normally don’t move around like that,” Huff said. “The other receivers and Marcus, they knew what kind of mindset I was in. Every route, I knew where Marcus would want to go, and I went there.”
The game-winning touchdown, Mariota said, “quite frankly, it was a bad throw.” He could have led Huff more, but Huff was able to leap up and make the catch before running past the ball.
“It was the best throw he made so far this year,” Huff countered with a wide smile, after hearing of Mariota’s comments.
“A lot of thoughts went through my mind,” Huff said of the game-winning play. “My main focus was just to secure the catch. I was able to do that, and the crowd went crazy.”
Elements of that crowd weren’t exactly in Huff’s corner the last few weeks, after comments that seemed to degrade a possible Rose Bowl appearance, and then a flat performance at Arizona that eliminated the possibility.
Huff said he had “no regrets” about the situation, but also seemed pleased to have solidified his place in the hearts of Duck fans Friday.
“To go out on top against the Beavers – our rival – it’s a great feeling,” Huff said.
“No matter what people say about me or about my team, I know the true feeling. I know each and every down, we’re going to go out and give our best.”
Huff certainly did his part Friday, cementing his name in Civil War lore for years to come.