TUCSON, Ariz. -- There were big plays. There were strange plays. There were seemingly huge gaffes that really didn't mean much. An Oregon cheerleader got knocked out by a water bottle hurled from the stands. There were expectant Arizona fans on the field, encircling this drama like a red ribbon, who ended up standing in stunned silence after Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli generated his sixth and final touchdown to conclude the second overtime of this thrilling and nearly four-hour evening.
"It got quiet really fast," Masoli said after Oregon prevailed 44-41 and took one step closer to its first Rose Bowl since the 1994 season.
Masoli scored three touchdowns running, including a 1-yard carry that won it. He also passed for three touchdowns, including an 8-yard toss that tied the score with six seconds left in regulation.
Oregon jumped to a 14-0 lead. Then Arizona scored 24 unanswered points. Both defenses were in control at times. And at times, both offenses seemed unstoppable. The score then was knotted at 24, 31 and 38, at which point Arizona's field goal in the second overtime fell short of the Ducks touchdown.
Both teams had 22 first downs. Oregon's 459 total yards was just 18 more than the Wildcats. It was about as closely contested as a game can be.
"There's nothing to be ashamed of," said Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, who passed for 314 yards and four touchdowns.
But the mood in the two locker rooms couldn't have been more different.
"I have no words for it," said jubilant Oregon running back LaMichael James, who rushed for 117 yards and set a new Pac-10 freshman rushing record with 1,310 yards.
The 11th-ranked Ducks (9-2, 7-1) now pause for a moment to collect themselves and before beginning earnest preparation for a Civil War showdown with Oregon State on Dec. 3 that has very simple stakes: The winner goes to the Rose Bowl.
James, by the way, broke the record Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers set last year.
The Wildcats (6-4, 4-3), meanwhile, will try to regroup for a visit to archrival Arizona State on Saturday.
Said Arizona's senior safety Cam Nelson, "I can sit here and say we're not going to let it [get us down] but at the end of the day, we all know it is. It's something that is going to stick with us the rest of our lives knowing we let this opportunity slip out of our hands. I can sit here and say 'no, we're going to put it behind us,' but I'm not."
Some game oddities:
Arizona kicker Alex Zendejas made a career-long 47-yard field goal just before the half, despite two timeouts from Oregon coach Chip Kelly intended to ice him. After which, he jawed at the Ducks sideline with amusing abandon. He also missed a 24-yard chip shot in the third quarter.
Oregon kicker Morgan Flint tied the game at 24-24 in the fourth quarter when his line-drive field goal bounced off the crossbar and decided to go through the uprights anyway.
Arizona receiver David Douglas fumbled right before he scored a touchdown in the first quarter, but Juron Criner turned a short bubble screen into a 71-yard touchdown despite seeming to be surrounded the entire run.
Perhaps most curious was when Kelly decided to go for a fourth-and-4 from his 45-yard line with 6:26 left with Arizona ahead 31-24. The Ducks failed to convert, at which point the Wildcats fans started their plan to storm the field.
"We never flinched," Kelly said, bringing up the call before he was even asked about it. "I went for it on fourth down because I was confident we could get a stop and get another chance."
Which is exactly what happened. Foles threw his only interception in the end zone on a third and 16 play from the Ducks 40, which mostly functioned as a punt.
Masoli and company took over with 3:11 left.
"That's a lot of time for us," Kelly said.
Oregon went 80 yards in 15 plays. It converted a third-and-11 from the Arizona 46 with an 18-yard run up the middle from James. It converted on a fourth-and-4 from the Wildcats 22 with a 7-yard pass from Masoli to Jeff Maehl, who had a career-best 12 receptions for 114 yards with two touchdowns.
The drive was vintage Masoli. A little out-of-control. A little unconventional. Lots of things getting made up as he went along.
"He's unflappable," Kelly said. "Nothing bothers him."
That take was seconded by Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.
"The plays he made in critical situations are remarkable," he said.
It was a remarkable game that was worthy of simplifying what had been a complicated Pac-10 race.
A Civil War on Dec. 3 will send one Oregon program to the Rose Bowl.